A small research review suggests that mindfulness-based therapy may help ease anxiety and depression in some cancer patients.
Medical advances have helped transform cancer from a death sentence to a chronic disease for many patients. Now, the attention is shifting to the physical and mental health problems that can linger even after tumors subside.
Depression and anxiety are common in terminally ill cancer patients and people with persistent pain. Depression and anxiety can also affect patients who have a better prognosis but fear treatment may fail.
Approaches to mindfulness-based therapy vary. However, this type of treatment typically involves a combination of counseling as well as education in relaxation and stress-relief techniques such as yoga or medication.
Mindfulness-based therapy was originally devised to ease chronic depression. It is not commonly used to address anxiety and help patients cope with mental health problems tied to conditions ranging from cancer to high blood pressure to chronic pain.
In order to further analyze how a mindfulness approach ma work in oncology, researchers analyzed data from seven previously published studies that included 469 cancer patients who received this therapy and 419 who did not.
Overall, mindfulness-based therapy is effective for reducing anxiety and depression, but the impact may depend on the exact type of treatment provided and the effect may not last longer than 12 weeks.
When researchers pooled the data from all the studies, mindfulness-based therapy was linked to a 25% greater decline in anxiety and a 10% greater decline in symptoms of depression compared to usual care.
Unfortunately, only two of the studies incorporated assessments of benefits beyond 12 weeks. There was also little consistency in the types of mindfulness therapy used and insufficient data to assess whether people were also treated with medication to ease anxiety or depression.
It is critical that all cancer patients with mental health difficulties are thoroughly evaluated by a professional provider in order to determine their individualized needs with sustained follow-up over time.