Trial shows that MBCT reduces psychological distress in cancer patients

A cancer diagnosis is usually devastating for a patient and for their close family.  We can see that receiving such news is traumatic – leaving patients anxious about death and the impact upon loved ones; or fearful of the treatment or of being unable to control their emotions.  Yet the subsequent treatment phases can also be stressful, debilitating and challenging as patients may face the longer-term impact of surgery on their function and self-image…  and even the end of treatment – the “all clear” – can cause problems as families celebrate but the patients themselves are not feeling so positive as they try to process and adjust to the impact of their experience and the way in which they  have changed… and of course the anxiety of wondering if there will be a reoccurance. (See a previous blog post on this subject ).

Yet Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy can really help cancer patients to reduce distress.

This week I have been looking at a Dutch study on 245 patients using Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy  (MBCT) to reduce anxiety. Each of the cancer patients taking part in the study was categorised as experiencing “psychological distress” — I.e. demonstrating a score ≥ 11 on the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS).  See here.

The study compared patients treated with the usual psychological support  with those receiving an eight week course in either “therapist lead” MBCT or self-help (internet based) eMBCT.

The results demonstrated that both face-to-face and internet-based self-help mindfulness based cognitive therapy significantly reduced psychological distress in patients with cancer – reducing fear of cancer recurrence and improving mental health–related quality of life.

The result showed:

  • “Usual treatment” produced a change in mean HADS score from 17.04 at baseline to 16.37 at post-intervention
  • “Face to face MBCT” achieved a change from 18.81 to 13.25
  • and the “eMBCT group” achieved a change from 17.24 to 11.87 – almost eliminating  “psychotically distress” as defined

So, both MBCT and eMBCT significantly reduced fear of cancer recurrence and rumination and increased mental health–related quality of life, mindfulness skills, and more positive mental health compared with usual treatment.

The investigators concluded, “Compared with treatment as usual, MBCT and eMBCT were similarly effective in reducing psychological distress in a sample of distressed heterogeneous patients with cancer.”

This research is exciting for us at Carina Sciences as we are currently working on a project to help cancer patients and their carers by providing a blend of information, advice and psychological support from diagnosis through treatment and beyond.  I will keep you posted.

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