This article provides great support for those mental health practitioners who have and are helping cancer patients.
HELPING PATIENTS WITH CANCER, by Richard E. Gill, Assistant Editor, The American Psychologist [emphases are added by me, RJC.]
When we returned from Honolulu our mail was waiting for us. On the top of the pile was a newspaper THE AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST. The headline read, “Breast Cancer Survival Rates improve with psychological intervention.”
The story continued:
“IN WHAT COULD BE A MAJOR STEP IN THE BATTLE AGAINST BREAST CANCER, an 11 year study by Ohio State University’s Department of Psychology shows that psychological intervention may very well improve a woman/s survival rate.
The study showed that breast cancer victims might have a better chance of survival, said Barbara Anderson, PhD, professor of psychology, if they join a quality psychological intervention group conducted by an experienced therapist.
Of the 227 women who joined in the study, 114 received psychological intervention programs, while 113 received assessment only, Anderson said. “Findings of the study established that patients receiving the intervention had less than half the risk of death from breast cancer compared to those who did not receive intervention and had a reduced risk of death from all causes, not just cancer.”
Published in the December issue of Cancer, the peer–reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the study indicates that reducing stress that can accompany cancer diagnosis and treatment can have a significant impact on patients’ survival.
Anderson said the findings could have a major impact on the study of breast cancer, “…we certainly hope it has a major impact. We worked really hard to find a study to answer the question: Can psychological intervention reduce the risk for re-occurrence of breast cancer and death? We are confident our findings are real.”
In the near future I will comment in detail on the possible intriguing meanings of this curious comment from this brilliant clinical researcher.
Many researchers have theorized that providing mental health services in addition to cancer care may improve a patient’s health and even prolong their survival but studies linking psychotherapy to improved survival have had inconsistent results. According to Anderson, this study is another step in helping breast cancer victims live longer. “That’s exactly what we found,” she added.
BREAST CANCER SURVIVAL RATES IMPROVE WITH PSYCHOLOGICAL INTERVENTION [headline on page 2 of National Psychologist]
Interventions included strategies to reduce stress and enhance their relationship with friends and family coping effectively improving mood, offering health behavior, especially with diets, and maintaining adherence to cancer treatment and care. Anderson said the study was weak in the area of exercise, but she is confident that exercise plays a significant role in overall health.
Just as important, the study had a significant impact on immune enhancement. Effects of this study concerning immunity were very robust, she said. A large sample of cancer victims who came into the study had high levels of stress that were related to lower levels of immunity.
We know that in those who joined interventions their immunity went up. We’re not guessing, we know that intervention affected immunity, she said. The interventions had a very powerful psychological effect and very powerful behavioral effects. It’s clear that they had health benefits… and survival benefits.”
Said Anderson, “Interventions may impact immune changes that are secondary to stress hormones that may promote cancer growth or metastasis and that in addition to treating cancer patients with powerful anti-tumor medications it also important to treat psychological distress as well.”
The American Cancer Society says there are in excess of 100,000 potential breast cancer victims in this country. Anderson hopes the results of this pragmatic study will persuade psychologists to start cancer patients intervention groups around the country.
“If efficacious psychological interventions to reduce stress are delivered early they will improve mental health and treatment relevant behavior and potentially, biologic outcomes,” Anderson said.