University of Calgary

Mindfulness benefits breast cancer patients, study finds

UToday HomeMarch 1, 2013

While mindfulness is practised in many teachings of Buddhism, it’s a relatively new concept in health-care applications. A new study from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Medicine has found that its practice may help breast cancer patients cope with their diagnoses.

“Mindfulness refers to awareness of the present moment in a non-judgmental manner,” says Rie Tamagawa, PhD, lead author of the study and post-doctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychosocial Resources/Oncology. “This enables patients to choose better coping strategies.”

Tamagawa says more mindful individuals accept what they think and feel as it is, without jumping to conclusions or reacting in habitual, negative ways. For example, if a mindful breast cancer patient feels a pain in her chest, instead of convincing herself the cancer has spread, she would first acknowledge her fear and apprehension, recognize the pain as unknown, and make an appointment to see her doctor.

The study, led by Linda Carlson, PhD, Enbridge Research Chair in Psychosocial Oncology, examined the association of mindfulness, among two other emotional styles: suppression (consciously ignoring negative thoughts and feelings) and repression (unconsciously ignoring negative thoughts and feelings), and self-reported symptoms of stress and mood disturbance.

Through standardized surveys, the 277 women studied, all of whom had faced a breast cancer diagnoses, were asked for information such as their levels of stress and pain in certain situations. Approximately one third of study participants had participated in an eight-week Mindfulness–Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program offered through the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

“We found that mindfulness was associated with less experience of mood disturbance and fewer self-reported health symptoms related to stress,” says Tamagawa. “On the other hand, emotional suppression was associated with greater mood disturbance and greater stress-related health problems.”

Tamagawa says it’s important for cancer patients to learn the necessary skills to handle and manage the symptoms of stress and emotional-disturbance so as to minimize further burden on their health.

“Our study has shown it beneficial for patients to be open to their feelings and mindful in their life so they can cope with the disease in the long term.”

The full study, Trait Mindfulness, Repression, Suppression and Self-Reported Mood and Stress Symptoms Among Women With Breast Cancer, is available in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

Individuals interested in learning to be more mindful in their lives can do so through various yoga and meditation classes, self-help books and exercises. Cancer patients and their caregivers can participate in courses such as mindfulness-based stress reduction through the Tom Baker Cancer Centre at no charge.


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