Stress Management Helps Women Survive Breast Cancer Longer
Newly published research from a National Cancer Institute-funded randomized trial shows that women who were taught skills to manage stress early in their breast cancer treatment had improved survival rates and longer intervals of remission 8 to 15 years post-diagnosis.
Michael Antoni, Ph.D., leader of the Adaptation to Cancer Treatment and Survivorship group of the Cancer Control Program at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and a professor of psychology, psychiatry, and behavioral sciences, and his research team previously found that cognitive-behavioral stress management (CBSM) — an intervention approach Antoni created at UM — improves psychological adaptation and lowers distress and inflammatory signaling in circulating cells during breast cancer treatment and long-term follow-ups.
Women receiving CBSM learned techniques like muscle relaxation and deep breathing as well as skills to change negative thoughts and improve coping strategies in ten weekly group sessions.
This secondary analysis, published online and in the November 2015 issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, examined whether breast cancer patients who received CBSM in the weeks after surgery had improved survival and a greater “disease-free interval” until recurrence.
“Our ongoing work is examining whether the effects of stress management on depressive symptoms and inflammatory biomarkers during the first year of treatment are linked to longer-term disease recurrence and survival,” said Antoni.
Antoni, also a professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, and researchers in the Department of Psychology noted that prior research has showed that distress, negative mood, and heightened inflammation during treatment may all facilitate disease progression and poorer health outcomes, thus “we wanted to test whether participating in a program like CBSM could decrease the risk of disease progression and mortality over the long term.”
The study is titled “A randomized controlled trial of cognitive-behavioral stress management in breast cancer: survival and recurrence at 11-year follow-up.”
Lead author Jamie Stagl, who earned his Ph.D. in psychology at UM after the research period, is currently a post-doctoral fellow in psychiatric oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston. In addition to Antoni, who also serves as Director of UM’s Center for Psycho-Oncology Research, coauthors who are Sylvester members include Suzanne C. Lechner, Ph.D., research associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Charles S. Carver, Ph.D., professor of psychology, and Bonnie Blomberg, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology. Additional coauthors include Gail Ironson, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychology and psychiatry, Alain Diaz, research assistant in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Laura C. Bouchard, Lisa M. Gudenkauf, Devika R. Jutagir and Qilu Yu, research assistants in the Department of Psychology, and Stefan Glück, M.D., Ph.D., who is no longer with UM.
The researchers are now testing whether changes in inflammatory gene expression during and after the stress management intervention predict disease outcomes up to 15 years later, and are developing and testing even shorter versions of the stress management program to see if five-week versions of programs specifically targeting either relaxation training or cognitive behavioral coping skills training are equivalent to the ten-week CBSM program.
Additional versions of stress management interventions that are adapted to meet the needs of specific vulnerable cancer populations—African American women, Latinas, or older women of all races and ethnicities, for example—are also being tested.
“Our work is unique in that more than one-third of the participants were of an ethnic minority, compared to mostly non-Hispanic White women studied in prior research, which means that the findings may be generalizable to the larger population of breast cancer patients,” Antoni said. “Our overarching goal is to improve survivorship and health outcomes by reaching patients early in the cancer treatment process and providing them the tools they need to manage current and future challenges on their journey.”
The latest publication is published by Springer and can be accessed online here.