Breast Cancer

Meditation Improves Cells in Breast-Cancer Survivors

Practicing meditation can have a positive physical impact on breast-cancer survivors at the cellular level, research has found for the first time.

The investigators, who worked out of Alberta Health Services’ Tom Baker Cancer Centre and the University of Calgary Department of Oncology, showed that telomeres (protein complexes at the end of chromosomes) maintain their length in breast-cancer survivors who practice meditation or go to support groups. On the other hand, the telomeres shortened in a group that didn’t have those treatments.

Shortened telomeres have previously been linked with several diseases, including cancer, as well as cell aging in general. Longer telomeres are believed to protect against disease.
“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,” said Linda E. Carlson, PhD, principal investigator and director of research in the Psychosocial Resources Department at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.
“It was surprising that we could see any difference in telomere length at all over the three-month period studied,” Carlson added. “Further research is needed…but this is an exciting discovery that provides encouraging news.”

The study, published in the journal Cancer, looked at 88 survivors who had completed treatment for at least three months. The average age of the participants was 55; most had ended treatment two years before the survey. To qualify for the study, the subjects also had to be undergoing significant emotional distress.

In a group called the Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery group, people attended eight weekly, 90-minute group sessions. The sessions contained instruction on mindfulness meditation and gentle yoga. The participants were asked to do practice meditation and yoga at home for 45 minutes every day.

The second group of participants met for Supportive Expressive Therapy. In 90-minute weekly sessions over 12 weeks, they were encouraged to talk about their feelings and concerns, with the aim of expressing emotions and providing mutual support. They also attended one six-hour seminar on stress management.

All subjects had their telomere length measured before and after the study.

Carlson said further research should be done to see if the treatment has a lasting impact.

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