Researchers from the University of Calgary report that cancer patients respond positively to mind-body therapies like yoga, meditation and hypnosis and they argue that these should become more integrated into clinical practice when it comes to cancer treatment.
The use of nonconventional therapies as an alternative to the standard approach involving surgery, chemotherapy and radiation has been studied in detail, with science showing little promise for alternatives like homeopathy, osteopathy, yoga and Tai Chi as successful stand-alone cancer therapies.
In fact, one recent study found the risk of death five years after a cancer diagnosis was up to five times higher for those forgoing standard treatment options for alternative therapies over standard treatment options. Rates were the highest for breast and colon cancer, which showed 5.6 and 4.6 times, respectively, greater risk of dying within five years.
Yet even with this poor track record, nonconventional therapies have a place within cancer treatment regimens, say the authors of a new study, who review the scientific literature on the topic and argue that many of the side-effects of traditional cancer treatment, such as nausea and vomiting, pain, fatigue, anxiety and depression can be significantly lessened through the use of so-called mind-body therapies (MBTs). The results show that even immune system strength can be elevated and the production of stress hormones lessened through the incorporation of MBTs.
“MBTs in cancer care show great promise and evidence of efficacy for treating many common symptoms,” say the study’s authors, researchers in the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, the Cumming School of Medicine and the departments of Oncology and Psychology at the University of Calgary.
Researchers reviewed the findings on a range of therapies, including guided imagery and relaxation, hypnosis and creative therapies such as art and music therapy. Overall, studies showed that MBTs can be useful in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms associated with cancer treatment and can improve quality of life.
Some modalities seemed to be more effective than others for specific symptoms, though. Whereas hypnosis and guided imagery and relaxation showed greater use in controlling nausea and vomiting and managing pain, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi and Qigong were all more associated with improving overall quality of life and alleviating anxiety and depression.
One reviewed study involved 270 distressed breast cancer patients, some of whom used a mindfulness-based cancer recovery program, found that the program improved markers for stress symptoms, mood, social support and spirituality.
The authors call for more and stronger research into MTBs and their role in cancer treatment, saying that part of the problem in verifying the usefulness of MBTs is the sheer variety in forms, styles and practices, which makes scientific evaluation difficult. “One of the most consistent issues that arise in MTB research is the lack of therapy standardization,” say the authors. “In imagery for example, there is considerable variability among guided imagery scripts and there is debate as to whether standardized or tailored scripts should be used.”
The new study is published in the journal Current Oncology Reports.