In the 1970’s Ainslie Meares published a series of studies about cancer patients being treated with meditation with evidence of regression of tumors in some patients while not having had any orthodox treatment that could have affected the outcome. These included a woman with breast cancer (1976), a man with ontogenetic sarcoma (1978), two patients with Hodgkin’s disease (1978, and a patient with carcinoma of the rectum (1979). Additional patients who did not experience regression of tumors did experience a longer than predicted survival rate and an improved quality of life. In some cases the illness returned when the patients stopped meditation and regressed when meditation was resumed according to the researcher. Meares believed the cause of the healing was related to the psychophysiological effects of meditation: effects on the endocrine system, a lowering of the cortisone level with a subsequent reactivation of the immune system, an increase in alpha and theta waves, having been identified by E.E.G., generally opposite responses on the part of the organism to those caused by stress, a re-establishing of the body’s normal homeostatic mechanisms due to the breaking of the vicious circle of stress-anxiety, which also lasted for a certain period of time after the end of the meditation sessions.
In a study from 1974 to 1978, which included the use of relaxation and visualization techniques, Simonton and Matthews-Simonton found that the average survival of their patients was higher than the average survival reported in literature: the average survival in subjects with advanced breast cancer was 38.5 months compared to the national average of 18 months, in patients with advanced bowel cancer it was 22.5 months compared to the national average of 9 months, and in patients with advanced lung cancer it was 14.5 months compared to the national average of 6 months.
In 1985, Kiecolt-Glaser discovered that the elderly in a retirement home who practiced a relaxation technique, showed a significant increase in their immune defenses against viruses and tumors and in 1989 Spiegel and his colleagues showed how weekly group therapy for women with breast cancer and metastasis over a year showed a significant statistical and clinical increase in survival compared to a control group in a ten-year follow-up.
In 1987, Orme-Johnson gave concrete evidence that a technique of Meditation practiced by subjects for five years, was able to improve the general state of health and also reduced health costs in that admissions to hospital for cancer were 55.4% less than a control group (and 87% less than for heart disease, 30.4% less for infectious diseases, 30.6% less for mental disorders and 87.3% less for illnesses of the nervous system. In another study in 1997, Orme-Johnson compared cancer patients using meditation compared to patient data in the archives for 1985 to 1995 and found that the hospital admissions of neoplastic patients in a control group were 3.3 times higher than the group practicing meditation and 6-7 times higher in cases of mental health disturbances and substance abuse, and some 11.4 times in patients with cardiovascular disorders.
In 1993, Fawzy and his colleagues found that subjects with a malignant melanoma who had taken part in an intensive psychiatric support group on increasing problem-solving levels and psychological support and management of stress through relaxation techniques, showed a significantly higher survival rate compared to a control group in a six-year follow-up group.
Some recent research on meditation has shown that meditation can help to reduce anxiety, depression, tiredness, stress, chronic pain and sleep problems and help to lower blood pressure. Some studies also shows that meditation can help to relieve some symptoms and improve the quality of life for people with cancer such as a) improving mood and ability to concentrate, reduce severe depression and anxiety, and boost the immune system. Thus, it could be a part of a holistic approach to cancer treatment. An overview of some recent studies follow.
A controlled study published in 2000 assessed 90 cancer patients who used mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) meditation for 7 weeks. Results showed that those who meditated had 31% lower stress symptoms and 67% less mood disturbance than people who did not meditate.
In 2000, Michael Speca et al studies the effects of a mindful meditation intervention on mood and stress-symptoms in cancer patients. A randomized wait-list controlled design was used and a convenience sample of eligible cancer patients enrolled in the study after giving informed consent. They were randomly assigned to either a treatment group or a wait-list control group. Both groups completed the Profile of Mood States and the Symptoms of Stress Inventory before and after the intervention. Ninety patients (mean age, 51 years) completed the study. The group was heterogeneous in type and stage of cancer and patients’ mean preintervention scores on dependent measures were equivalent between the two groups The intervention for the research group included a weekly meditation group lasting 1.5 hours for 7 weeks plus home meditation practice. Results showed patients in the treatment group had significantly lower scores on Total Mood Disturbance and subscales of Depression, Anxiety, Anger, and Confusion and more Vigor than control subjects after the intervention. The treatment group also had fewer overall Symptoms of Stress; fewer Cardiopulmonary and Gastrointestinal symptoms; less Emotional Irritability, Depression, and Cognitive Disorganization; and fewer Habitual Patterns of stress. Overall reduction in Total Mood Disturbance was 65%, with a 31% reduction in Symptoms of Stress. The researchers concluded that the interventions were effective in decreasing mood disturbance and stress symptoms in both male and female patients with a wide variety of cancer diagnoses,
A review in 2004 of 9 research articles and 5 conference abstracts carried out primarily with breast or prostate cancer patients using mindfulness meditation in clinical- based group settings found improved psychological functioning, reduced stress, enhanced coping and wellbeing among the cancer patients.
A review published in 2005 evaluated the research evidence for using meditation in cancer care. The reviewers found that when practiced alongside cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, mindfulness meditation helped cancer patients feel more positive and optimistic. It also helped reduce some side effects and symptoms such as anxiety and feeling sick.
Another study in the Netherlands in 2008 found that cancer patients who practiced MBSR were very satisfied with the practice and reported it gave them a better quality of life, less tension, and fewer physical symptoms. A year after the training they also reported less depression, anger and mood disturbance.
In 2009 Researchers in Japan reported on all the studies carried on the effect of MBSR on the mental and physical health of cancer patients. Ten studies were included and the researchers found that MBSR may be helpful for their mental health and the way cancer patients cope with cancer. But they reported that more research is needed to show whether there is an effect on physical health.
In 2009 an American study evaluated mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) for women with early stage breast cancer. Researchers found that the women who practiced MBSR had lower levels of depression, less anxiety and less fear of the cancer coming back than women who did not practice MBSR. The subjects also had higher energy levels and better physical wellbeing than those who did not practice MBSR..
In 2011, Researchers carried out a review of trials into mindfulness and cancer care (13 research papers and 4 conference abstracts since 2007). The studies reported significant improvements in anxiety, depression, stress, sexual difficulties, and immune function. The authors concluded that the study designs were very different and it is difficult to compare the results but mindfulness may have a place in cancer treatment and symptom control.
A 2012 American study looked at 23 patients having chemotherapy and found that when they listened at home to audio MBSR CDs they reported better mood and better quality of life.
A 2012 UK study assessed the use of mindfulness based stress reduction with women with early stage breast cancer. Two hundred twenty nine women participated and they had surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. . Half of the women had an 8 week MBSR program and the other half had standard care. The researchers found that the women who had MBSR reported they felt better emotionally and physically and had fewer hormone related symptoms than women who had standard care. Researchers concluded that MBSR can help to reduce the long term emotional and physical effects of treatments, including hormone treatments and recommended it as a support for women having breast cancer treatment.
A 2014 study on breast cancer survivors found that mindfulness meditation, yoga, and getting involved in emotional support groups may initiate changes at the cellular level. Specifically they found that mindfulness meditation and gentle Hatha yoga or attending emotional support groups protected the telomeres of breast cancer survivors. Telomeres are structures at the end of chromosomes that protect them from damage and shortened telomeres are associated with increased aging and risk of disease, whereas longer telomeres are believed to protect against disease. Two hundred seventy one women with an average age of 55 and 3 months post cancer treatment with high emotional stress were included. Women were placed into one of three groups—mindfulness meditation, emotional support, or a control group receiving stress management. Blood samples were taken from all women before and after the intervention in order to measure the length of the telomeres. Researchers found that women who were a part of the mindfulness-based cancer recovery group or the supportive express therapy group had greater telomere length at the end of the study, compared with controls. They concluded “it is possible to influence telomere length in cancer survivors through the use of psychosocial interventions involving group support, emotional expression, stress reduction, and mindfulness meditation.”