Meditation helps cancer patients years after diagnosis

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Weekly courses in meditation, yoga and communication can improve the quality of life for cancer patients years after their diagnosis, according to data presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Breast Surgeons in Washington, D.C.

"It's important for doctors to know that their patients may still experience psychological distress and they need to ask about it and have resources available," Dr. Ruth Lerman, who led the research at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, told Reuters Health.

"I think that the health value of meditation is remarkable. And it's becoming accepted now in Western medicine," she added.

Dr. Lerman's team randomized 68 female cancer patients, 52 of whom had survived breast cancer, to a treatment group of 48 or a control group of 20.

The treatment group attended weekly 2-hour classes for 8 weeks, while the control group was on a waiting list. The mean age was 58 years in the two groups, and both had similar types of cancers and had been diagnosed an average of 4 years before the study began.

The patients in the workshop learned meditation and communication skills, and practiced meditation at home an average of half an hour per day.

"Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, to what's happening in the present moment without judgment," Dr. Lerman says. "There's a good, solid body of research about its benefits, but the studies are not as rigorous. People in my field really want the scientific evidence rather than an anecdotal report."

All patients rated their quality of life on the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Quality of Life Questionnaire (EORTC QLQ-30), the Symptoms of Stress Inventory (SOSI) and the Symptoms Checklist (SCL-90-R).

The treatment group improved significantly on the EORTC (p=0.005), on six of the eight SOSI subscales (p=0.049) and on both SCL-90-R subscales (p=0.023). According to Dr. Lerman, the effect sizes were moderate.

There were no significant improvements in the control group (p>0.2).

"Yoga and meditation, even many years out after diagnosis, seem to be helpful in reducing anxiety," Dr. Sheldon Feldman, chief of breast surgery at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, told Reuters Health.

"It was a small private study, but since it was randomized, the impact is significant," said Dr. Feldman, also of the American Society of Breast Surgeons, who was not involved in the new research.

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