Cancer Symptoms and Treatment of Side Effects

Meditation for Health: What the Science Says

November 2014

There is evidence that mindfulness-based stress reduction, a type of meditation training, can help cancer patients relieve anxiety, stress, fatigue, and general mood and sleep disturbances, thus improving their quality of life. Most participants in these mindfulness studies have been patients with early-stage cancer, primarily breast cancer, so the evidence favoring mindfulness training is strongest for this group of patients.

The Evidence Base

The current evidence base on efficacy of meditation for cancer symptoms and treatment side effects consists of clinical practice guidelines issued by the Society for Integrative Oncology on the use of integrative therapies as supportive care in patients treated for breast cancer (2014) and guidelines issued by the American College of Chest Physicians on the use of complementary and integrative medicine in patients with lung cancer (2013).

The 2014 guidelines are based on evidence from 203 studies, and each modality was graded using a modified version of the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force grading system to develop and grade recommendations. The 2013 guidelines are based on evidence from 31 studies, including meta-analyses, systematic reviews, and randomized controlled trials.

Efficacy

Clinical practice guidelines issued by the Society for Integrative Oncology in 2014 (391KB PDF) on the use of integrative therapies as supportive care options in patients during breast cancer treatment recommends meditation, yoga, and relaxation imagery for routine use for commons conditions, including anxiety and mood disorders (Grade A). The guidelines also recommend stress management, yoga, massage, music therapy, energy conservation, and meditation for stress reduction, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and quality of life (Grade B).

Clinical practice guidelines issued by the American College of Chest Physicians in 2013 for patients undergoing lung cancer treatment recommend meditation, as well as other mind-body modalities, as part of a multidisciplinary approach to reduce anxiety, mood disturbance, chronic pain, and improve quality of life. These guidelines are based on evidence that meditation can help cancer patients relieve anxiety, stress, fatigue, and general mood and sleep disturbances, thus improving their quality of life.

A 2013 randomized controlled trial in 271 distressed survivors of breast cancer examined the effects of mindfulness-based cancer recovery versus supportive-expressive group therapy. Women in the mindfulness group improved more overtime on stress symptoms compared with those in both the supportive-expressive therapy group and the control. Greater improvements in quality of life were also seen in the mindfulness group compared with the control, and in social support compared with the supportive-expressive therapy group.

A 2012 randomized controlled trial in 229 women following surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy for breast cancer (stage 0 to III) found that an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program improved mood, breast- and endocrine-related quality of life, and well-being more effectively than standard care. The results persisted at 3 months.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine