Mindfulness Decreases Anxiety and Depression in Cancer Patients

Individuals who receive a diagnosis of cancer face emotional and physical challenges. They must decide which type of treatment to pursue and must accept the risks associated with those. Physical health becomes compromised as a result of cancer and the accompanying treatments and this impairment can affect mobility, appearance and psychological well-being. People who are facing cancer treatments, or who have survived cancer are at increased risk for negative mental health outcomes. Depression and anxiety are among the most common psychological consequences among cancer survivors and patients. Not knowing what the future holds and worrying about relapses can create fear and worry. Regrets about past choices and negative feelings associated with a former way of life can lead to depression in these individuals. Although it is well known that individuals who battle cancer may also have to overcome mental health problems, the best way to accomplish that is still widely debated.

Mindfulness-based therapies (MBT) have been used to address many negative psychological issues, including anxiety and depression. For individuals who have to deal with additional symptoms such as pain, MBT may be a useful tool. Jacob Piet of the Department of Psychology at Aarhus University in Denmark recently conducted a study to see if MBT would be beneficial at reducing not only the physical symptoms associated with cancer, but also the psychological symptoms of depression and anxiety. For his study, Piet analyzed data from 22 separate studies that assessed the mental and physical health of over 1,400 individuals with cancer. The participants were evaluated for symptom severity and remission, as well as overall quality of life.

The results revealed that the participants who received MBT had steeper reductions in depressive and anxious symptoms than those who received usual care. Additionally, these same individuals also realized less rumination and worry associated with depression and anxiety. Piet did find a difference between the results achieved in the randomized controlled studies (RCTs) and the nonrandomized studies, but regardless, the trend indicated that MBT was indeed a viable and effective option for treating both physical and psychological symptoms that arise from cancer diagnosis and treatment. Piet added, “Compared to other effective forms of psychological treatment, MBT may represent a more general approach to dealing with psychological distress by teaching participants to relate more skillfully to their experience.”

Piet, J., Würtzen, H., Zachariae, R. (2012). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on symptoms of anxiety and depression in adult cancer patients and survivors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028329

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  • Sandra v

    Sandra v

    June 25th, 2012 at 3:54 PM

    I know that when I was going through my radiation treatments I was always searching for a way to have something to take me to a different place, a more relaxing place, and I think that this could have been the answer for me.

  • lanny


    June 26th, 2012 at 12:01 AM

    holistic treatment like this is much needed..because we often see so many people having been treated for their physical ailment and then ended up being depressed due to the whole disorder and the following treatment..!

  • Sebrina


    June 26th, 2012 at 4:15 AM

    If the patients are experiencing less depression and anxiety overall then you would have to assume that their chances for overall better physical health as well as prognosis would improve as well.

  • Mark


    June 26th, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    It’s funny how happy go lucky I was in life until I got my cancer scare, and then all I could think about was what could have been, things I should have done in life and all the mistakes that I had made along the way.

    In many ways I was more concerned over the mistakes of the past instead of being able to focus on getting better and the more positve things in life that would have helped me have an easier time managing the stress that I was feeling.

    I did not have anyone to lead me through that, to reach out and tell me to stop worrying about the past. I had to come to realize that if I focused more on the here and now and the future, there would be time later on to rectify the past mistakes. That’s what in the end got me through the hell of chemo and just all of the not knowing.

  • Quinn Redding

    Quinn Redding

    June 27th, 2012 at 4:27 AM

    More oncologists need to get on board with this kind of treatment and find therapists that they feel comfortable referring out to and getting these cancer patients this kind of support which could help them respond so much better to their drug regimen.
    I have a hard time believing though that some of these doctors who already have such a God complex will be open to thinking that this is something that could benefit their patients.
    I think that they will need a whole lot of convincing that this in addition to their treatment plans will be what will offer their patients the most benefit and recovery.

  • Anne


    June 27th, 2012 at 12:27 PM

    Great article. Depression and anxiety are often treated with medication when patients seek medical care, but a study from London described on Belleruth Naparstek’s site suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy may also be as effective in some cases. Anecdotally, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that MBT treatments work, but work needs to be done to make patients and doctors aware of these treatments and willing to try them.

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