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The mind DOES matter: psychology affects cancer patient outcomes

15 February 2013

Original Research Commentary

It’s been anecdotally said that when it comes to fighting cancer, attitude affects outcome. The other day I became aware of a randomly controlled clinical trial (hard science golden standard) that tested this hypothesis.

Lead by Barbara Andersen, a group of 227 breast cancer patients were treated with standard therapy (surgery, chemotherapy) until their disease was in remission, then split into two groups: a control group and an intervention group.

“The intervention was conducted in groups of 8 to 12 patients with two clinical psychologist leaders. It included relaxation training, positive ways to cope with stress and cancer-related difficulties (e.g., fatigue), methods to maximize social support, and strategies for improving health behaviors (diet, exercise) and adherence to cancer treatments. A total of 26 sessions (39 therapy hours) were delivered over 12 months.”

The patients were were then followed for 11 years, and monitored to see how often their cancer came back. The intervention group had statistically better outcomes; the patients receiving stress management therapy (whose cancer came back) lived an average of six months longer, and at time of publication, 15% more patients in the intervention group remained in remission and disease free, compared to the control group that did not receive the psychological support.

Follow-up articles have implicated the role of stress hormones in promoting cancer growth, further establishing causation to the stress-cancer connection.

The take away message is this: there IS a psychological component that influences cancer patient outcomes, shown here with hard science.


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