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Impact of Mindfulness & Group Support on Telomere Length in Breast Cancer Survivors

12 Mar

Researchers from the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada looked at the impact of mindfulness-based cancer recovery (MBCR) training, as well as supportive-expressive group therapy, on telomere length in breast cancer survivors. Telomere length is associated with longevity and has been found to be a predictive element in breast cancer prognosis.

The MBCR focused on training in mindfulness meditation and gentle Hatha yoga, whereas SET focused on emotional expression and group support.

The primary outcome measure was relative telomere length, the telomere/single-copy gene ratio, assessed before and after each intervention. Secondary outcomes were self-reported mood and stress symptoms.

Eighty-eight distressed breast cancer survivors with a diagnosis of stage I to III cancer, who had completed treatment at least 3 months prior, participated. Using analyses of covariance on a per-protocol sample, there were no differences noted between the MBCR and SET groups with regard to the telomere/single-copy gene ratio, but a trend effect was observed between the combined intervention groups and the controls (F [1,84], 3.82; P = .054; η2  = .043). TL in the intervention group was maintained whereas it was found to decrease for control participants. There were no associations noted between changes in TL and changes in mood or stress scores over time.

The investigators conclude that psychosocial interventions providing stress reduction and emotional support result in trends toward maintenance of telomere length in distressed breast cancer survivors, compared with decreases in TL found with usual care.

Citation: Carlson LE1, Beattie TL, Giese-Davis J, Faris P, Tamagawa R, Fick LJ, Degelman ES, Speca M. Mindfulness-based cancer recovery and supportive-expressive therapy maintain telomere length relative to controls in distressed breast cancer survivors. Cancer. 2014 Nov 3. doi: 10.1002/cncr.29063. [Epub ahead of print]

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award.