Researchers found that stress management can affect the processes that promote tumors — at a cellular level. It is one of the first studies to link psychological treatments with having effects on genes in cancer patients.
The stress management program affects which genes in the cells of the immune system are turned on and off. This may provide better recovery during treatment for breast cancer. Women were able to psychologically adapt better to the whole notion of undergoing cancer treatment. And there were physical changes that showed women recovered better.
This study showed that tackling stress helps support cancer treatment and — most importantly — promote recovery over the first year. Past research has shown that during times of adversity, your nervous and endocrine system sends signals to the immune system, which defends you from disease. In response, your body activates specific genes inside immune cells called white blood cells.
For women in the program, researchers say that their bodies were producing more molecules associated with a healthy immune system. At the same time, genes responsible for the production of substances linked to cancer progression were shut down more.
So the program in question was 10 weeks of combined relaxation, imagery, and deep breathing, along with cognitive behavior therapy. These are hallmarks of meditation and stress relief. They are designed to help patients reduce bodily tension, change the way they deal with stressful thoughts, decrease negative moods, and improve their interpersonal communication skills.
It goes without saying that cancer treatment is stressful. It can be emotionally and physically tiring — which limits your ability to recover. So tackling stress can help empower the body to fight cancer and recover. And now it’s been proven on a molecular level in the immune system.