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Can Mindfulness Help Breast Cancer Survivors?

breast cancer ribbonDepression can be a factor in the treatment of an array of different health problems.  It has an impact on the treatment of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.  Depression may not be the cause of these diseases, but it often co-occurs with them and can influence whether patients follow through on treatment recommendations.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction training can help breast cancer survivors in their struggle with depression.

The number of women who survive breast cancer has increased in recent years.  However, side-effects of breast cancer treatment, including sleep problems and depression, can disrupt people’s lives and interfere with their treatment. According to a study conducted by Mary Jane Massie (2004), depression may impact as many as 50% of women with breast cancer.

In a recent study at the University of Missouri Jane Armer and other researchers found that breast cancer survivors’ health improved after they completed mindfulness-based stress reduction training that incorporates meditation, yoga and physical awareness.

What is Mindfulness-based stress reduction?

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction involves learning to focus attention, on purpose.  Attention is focused on the present moment with an openness to experience.  The quality of this attention is a gentle, non-judgmental acceptance of whatever arises into awareness.

Mindfulness is often seen as a way of counteracting emotional reactivity that can leave us stressed, anxious and depressed.  Instead of simply reacting to feelings, thoughts and events in life, with mindfulness you learn to become aware of your reactions and to respond to your experience out of awareness and consciousness.

At his mindfulness based stress reduction program in Worcester, Massachusetts, Jon Kabat-Zinn teaches participants this increased awareness through meditation, yoga and dialogue in day-to-day awareness of life.  Participants attend groups and complete homework assignments that include daily meditations.

This training is aimed at teaching people to use their innate abilities to respond effectively to stress, pain and illness.  Surviving breast cancer is certainly stressful.

Studies have found that breast cancer survivors who have finished treatment experienced more depression and far higher levels of fatigue, sleep problems, and difficulty working and concentrating than healthy subjects.  Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a treatment that may be a fit for many in their recovery.

You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response

Breast cancer ribbon photo available from Shutterstock.

Can Mindfulness Help Breast Cancer Survivors?

Christy Matta, MA

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APA Reference
Matta, C. (2012). Can Mindfulness Help Breast Cancer Survivors?. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Apr 2012
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