Mythbusters: Complementary and Alternative Treatments in Cancer

Victoria Stern, MA


September 02, 2014

In This Article


Proposition: Meditation diminishes anxiety, stress, and depression in cancer patients.

What the science says: Meditation as a complement to cancer treatment does appear to improve patients' quality of life and reduce anxiety and pain. Studies consistently show that high levels of stress can boost inflammation, which may increase the risk of developing cancer, having a recurrence, or dying from the disease.[39] Alternatively, meditation or other relaxation techniques have been shown to alleviate anxiety, depression, and stress and even enhance immune function.[40]

One recent meta-analysis that included 9 studies, 2 of which were RCTs, found that various mindfulness-based stress-reduction techniques decreased stress, depression, and anxiety in breast cancer patients.[41] Another meta-analysis, which evaluated 3 RCTs, found that mindfulness-based stress reduction, which included meditation and yoga, reduced depression and anxiety in breast cancer patients receiving mainstream treatments significantly more than those who just received conventional care.[42]

What the experts say: "Although there is no evidence that meditation reduces cancer recurrence or increases survival in cancer patients, it may enhance relaxation and overall quality of life," said Dr. Rock.

According to Dr. Deng, when it comes to integrating mind-body interventions, such as meditation, into mainstream care, the burden of proof doesn't need to be high. "With chemotherapy, we have to be very certain that it will help patients because it is a high-risk treatment that needs to be tailored to a patient's particular pathology and genome. Meditation, however, won't hurt patients so the requirement for trying it is quite low. Research shows that mindfulness meditation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques reduce stress and improve quality of life. Whether a patient chooses to do meditation, yoga, or tai chi to relax is a choice that depends on a person's belief system, personality, cultural background, and general likes and dislikes. Mind-body techniques are essentially different tools that serve the same purpose, so it is a moot point to compare their effectiveness. It's more about what works for each person."

Verdict: Confirmed for diminishing stress, depression, and anxiety.


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