Stress and cancer have been studied for 30 years without producing scientific evidence that stress leads to the development of cancer. We do know, however, that the body responds to stress by releasing certain hormones, and there have been studies showing an association between stress and tumor growth or spread.There's no question that stress and cancer are intertwined. You may feel overwhelmed from the time you learn you have the disease, through treatment, and as you resume a normal life afterward. It's important to understand that you can take control of the situation, and there are techniques to help you on your journey.
Staying positive with mindfulness
Mindfulness is one technique patients say helps them cope with stress. Mindfulness is an ancient form of meditation that brings awareness to a present experience. For cancer patients, that means instead of burying your feelings and emotions about cancer, you examine them and deal with them.
At Lancaster General Health, cancer patients are learning how to take control of their day-to-day experiences with their disease in classes on mindfulness. Through poetry, meditation, exercises, gentle body work, and assignments like washing the dishes mindfully, patients practice the technique.They say mindfulness helps them to stay positive, sleep better, reduce the fear of tests and treatments, understand what their body is going through, and improve their interactions with family and friends.
Nurturing mind and body
For many cancer patients, the diagnosis comes as a complete shock. By all appearances, they're healthy, they eat right, they exercise. They're at a loss to understand how they got cancer. What they need most now is not to look backward and focus on the why, but to focus on the present—to nurture their minds to help them deal with what is happening to their bodies.The value of mindfulness is that it can build resiliency and help patients lead a calmer life. You may find that other techniques work for you. Perhaps it's keeping a journal to record your thoughts and emotions or simply setting aside some time to be alone by taking a daily walk.There are many things about your experience with cancer that you can't control. That makes it more important than ever to focus on the things you can control.
Lancaster General Health offers a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program for cancer patients and survivors, as well as a Breathing & Moving Through Cancer series. Check the links for more information and spaces available in upcoming sessions. (The next six-week "Breathing & Moving" program begins on Monday, March 19 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Currently the next session for our 'Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction" class has not been set, but check back for updates.)
Dr. Oyer is the Medical Director of the Oncology Program at Lancaster General Health, and is a hematologist/oncologist with Hematology-Oncology Medical Specialists in Lancaster.
Written by Randall A. Oyer, MD
Medical Director, Oncology Program
- Click here to watch a video about mindfulness and how it helps to reduce stress
- Learn more about stress and cancer in this "Ask the Experts" video
- Learn about healthy choices for prevention