Many studies have been carried out on the link between stress and cancer. One 2017 study by researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia found that chronic stress suppresses the immune system’s response to cancer, thus reducing the effectiveness of immunotherapy treatments. The researchers stated that, “stress led to poor function against the cancer by T-cells, which are very important in the immune system’s control and surveillance of tumours and are a major target in many immunotherapy treatments.” They added that currently, there is pre-clinical evidence suggesting that treatments and lifestyle interventions to keep stress at bay improve the chances of a positive response to therapies.
The Effect of Cancer on Mental Health
Reducing stress is important not only because it may improve treatment effectiveness, but also to help patients weather the most challenging moments faced during treatment and recovery. Some of the changes one may have to face include a change in family or work roles, changes in body image, and the difficulty of putting up with physical symptoms. Fear of the future may also contribute to depression and anxiety.
Important Steps to Take
Experts recommend that people adopt one or more approaches to stress reduction while battling cancer. These include training in relaxation, stress management, and meditation. Many studies have been carried out on the powerful effects that meditation has on reducing levels of stress hormone, cortisol. There are many ways this Eastern holistic practice can be pursued – everything from guided meditation classes to self reflection through the symbolism of cards, artwork, or through one’s own artistic creations, as occurs in art therapy. Additional approaches include counseling (and cognitive behavioral therapy), group therapy or support, medication for depression or anxiety, and exercise. Another powerful stress buster is time spent in nature; a large body of research has shown that time spent in the great outdoors dramatically reduces stress levels.
Studies on Mindfulness Based Practice and Stress Reduction
Although any physical activity can help bring stress down, mindfulness based practices, such as yoga, seem particularly powerful, thus making them an important complementary therapy when undergoing treatment for cancer. In one study, researchers at the University of Texas found that for women with breast cancer undergoing radiation therapy, yoga offers unique benefits beyond fighting fatigue. These benefits include lower stress levels, better general health, and improved physical functioning. In another study by scientists at Indiana University, mindfulness meditation was found to reduce stress and diminish ‘chemo brain’. Study after study has revealed the important role that mindfulness based activities such as yoga, meditation and Tai Chi can help both in curbing stress and in boosting vitality.
We have mentioned just a few approaches that can be taken when stress is an issue during cancer recovery. From nature breaks to yoga, self-reflection to art therapy, there are many ways to achieve a calmer, more mindful state. If you are battling cancer, aim to curb stress through different approaches, sticking to those which you enjoy and those you note have the most powerful soothing effect on your mind.