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Reducing Stress Improves Survival After Breast Cancer Recurrence

Posted Jun 14 2010 7:17am
Previous breast cancer research has reported that stress can impact the risk of breast cancer recurrence and death from breast cancer.  This appears due in part to a suppression of the immune system.  One breast cancer study (free to read) reported that a professional psychological intervention designed to reduce stress in breast cancer patients reduced the risk of breast cancer recurrence by about 45% and reduced the risk for death due to breast cancer by more than 50%. 

A new breast cancer study followed the breast cancer patients in the above-mentioned previous study for 11 years to determine if stress reduction improved immune function and length of survival after breast cancer recurrence.  For this study, the 227 breast cancer patients were originally assigned to two groups.  Breast cancer patients in the Assessment-Only group were assessed for their current psychological state and immune function.  Breast cancer patients assigned to the Assessment + Intervention group received the same intitial assessments, but also received counseling with a trained psychologist designed to teach ways to reduce stress, improve health behaviors, improve quality of life, develop support systems, and improve communication with health care professionals.

Of the original 227 breast cancer patients, 62 of them developed breast cancer again, 41 of whom were available for further study.  For these 41 breast cancer patients, information on their overall health, immune function, and psychological well being was collected at diagnosis of breast cancer recurrence and at 4, 8, and 12 months after breast cancer recurrence.  Analysis of this information showed that
  • Breast cancer patients in the Assessment + Intervention group were about 60% less likely to die from the recurrent breast cancer.
  • All patients were psychologically distressed upon diagnosis of breast cancer recurrence; however, psychological distress improved in women who had received psychological training to reduce stress.
  • Recurrent breast cancer patients who received the psychological intervention had stronger immune system function 12 months after recurrence compared to breast cancer patients who did not receive the psychological intervention.
These are important results, which indicate that counseling with a trained psychologist after initial diagnosis of breast cancer can reduce risk of breast cancer recurrence and improve survival and quality of life if breast cancer does recur.  Based on this current study and the previous study of these same breast cancer patients, professional counseling sessions successfully helped breast cancer patients reduce stress, improve their overall quality of life, and subsequently improve their immune function.  Therefore, reducing stress after breast cancer diagnosis can be an important part of the recovery process that leads to improved outcomes and long-term quality of life.

To learn about other lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your breast cancer risk, read my book Fight Now: Eat & Live Proactively Against Breast Cancer .
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