It's impossible to imagine exactly what it feels like to hear that you have breast cancer. A burden of the heaviest kind, a breast cancer diagnosis can send patients on emotional roller coasters, with some lows feeling like the ride may have gotten stuck. But to cope with the anxiety, researchers are recommending meditation and yoga, two great non-invasive alternative therapies that can help clear a stress-ridden mind.
One new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monographs looked at which alternative therapies provide the biggest benefits. The short answer? Meditation, yoga and relaxation with imagery.
The research, which involved information from 4,900 studies published between 1990 and 2013, ranked a wide range of therapeutic practices including massage, relaxation with imagery, music therapy, energy conservation and yoga, among others. Yoga, meditation and relaxation were given a grade A and were regarded as viable care options for breast cancer patients.
Each care option was scored based on how well it could help patients cope with stress and anxiety from a breast cancer diagnosis. The research could provide the framework for hospitals to implement new ways for patients to deal with the emotional trauma of cancer.
According to Time, up to 80 percent of American patients with breast cancer undergo complementary therapies to handle anxiety and stress after they receive a diagnosis.
"Women with breast cancer are among the highest users [of these therapies]…and usage has been increasing," the authors wrote in their study. "Clear clinical practice guidelines are needed."
Another Study: Analyzing Stress at the Cellular Level
A separate study, published in the journal cancer, showed that practicing mindful meditation had a positive physical impact at the cellular level in breast cancer survivors. The team working out of Alberta Health Services' Tom Baker Cancer Centre and the University of Calgary Department of Oncology highlighted that telomeres – the protein complexes at the end of chromosomes – maintain their length in breast cancer survivors who practice meditation, while they shorten in a comparison group without any intervention.
"We already know that psychosocial interventions like mindfulness meditation will help you feel better mentally, but now for the first time we have evidence that they can also influence key aspects of your biology," Dr. Linda E. Carlson, principal investigator and director of research in the Psychosocial Resources Department at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, said in a press release.
Over the three-month period, 88 breast cancer survivors who had completed their treatments attended eight weekly, 90-minute group sessions that provided instruction on mindful meditation and gentle yoga. Patients also practiced meditation and yoga at home for 45 minutes a day.
The blood tests demonstrated that the two practices shield telomeres from the shortening effects of stress.
"I was skeptical at first and thought it was a bunch of hocus-pocus," Allison McPherson, who underwent a full year of chemotherapy and numerous surgeries, said in a press release. "But I now practice mindfulness throughout the day and it's reminded me to become less reactive and kinder toward myself and others."