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Mindfulness Helps Young Women After Breast Cancer: Study

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 9, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Mindfulness, meditation and survivorship education can help young breast cancer survivors overcome depression and other problems, a new study indicates.

About 20% of breast cancer cases occur in women younger than 50, many of whom face significant struggles.

"For women in their 30s and 40s, the experience with breast cancer and its treatments is substantially different from that of older women," said study author Dr. Patricia Ganz, associate director for population science research at UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"These women often require more aggressive therapy that can be both disruptive and disfiguring, which can cause high levels of distress, putting them at an increased risk for the negative effects of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Yet, little research has been done on strategies to reduce the depression and manage the stress of this younger population," Ganz said in a university news release.

The researchers developed two six-week group behavioral interventions to help reduce depression, stress, fatigue and sleep problems in younger breast cancer patients.

One program provided instruction in using mindfulness to deal with difficult thoughts and emotions, manage pain and cultivate loving kindness.

The second program focused on survivorship education and covered topics including: quality of life and medical management after breast cancer; relationships and work-life balance; sexual health, and physical activity.

To assess the programs, the researchers enrolled 247 women who were diagnosed at age 50 or younger with early-stage breast cancer, completed treatment between six months and five years earlier, and had at least mild depressive symptoms.

Women in the mindfulness meditation group had significant reductions in depressive symptoms immediately after the program, and at three and six months later. The rate of clinical depression in the group fell from 50% before the program to 30% over the follow-up period.

This group also had long-lasting, significant decreases in fatigue severity, sleep disturbance and hot flashes.

Women in the survivorship education group also had significant reductions in depressive symptoms immediately after the program and three months later, but didn't have significant changes in fatigue, sleep disturbance and hot flashes.

The study was to be presented Wednesday at the virtual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"Younger breast cancer survivors are in need of targeted, effective programs to help manage stress, depression, and other residual side effects of diagnosis and treatment," said co-author Julienne Bower, a professor of psychology and psychiatry/biobehavioral sciences at UCLA.

"We are excited to have two new options to offer these survivors, and particularly the mindfulness program which is available online and can be accessed by women across the country," Bower said in the release.

More information

The American Cancer Society offers resources for breast cancer survivors.

SOURCE: University of California, Los Angeles, news release, Dec. 9, 2020

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