USF Study: Less Stress May Help Cancer Survivors Live Longer

Sometimes it takes a survivor to help a survivor.

That's exactly what is happening at the USF College of Nursing. While working on her dissertation a few years back, Dr. Cecile Lengacher learned from research that cancer survivors off treatment from one to two years reported continued fatigue, depression, pain and sleep disturbances -- the very things that could lead cancer to return to their bodies. Lengacher, a cancer survivor, decided to explore how meditative practice would help alleviate stress -- and thus decrease recurrence. It ultimately led to a study currently underway that explores how meditation reduces stress in cancer survivors.

"If you reduce stress, you reduce cortisol and inflammation. Inflammation is a precursor to cancer,'' explains Lengacher. "I actually did some guided imagery research in 1997 to see how it affected stress levels. I tried to get funding for it, but I couldn’t get it. But I kept thinking there may be a biological component to stress. Working at USF, I became very interested in working with cancer patients."

Lengacher's study has taken several groups of 15 to 20 cancer survivors and taught them relaxation techniques that include breathing, body scanning and yoga over a course of six weeks. Participants are asked to continue practice at home for another six. Lengacher and her staff have been monitoring psychological and physical effects to determine if the techniques are working to reduce signs of stress. 

The trial has been going for four years, and Lengacher says she is seeing positive results not just for participants but for herself as well. "The results we’ve seen so far indicate that it is relieving symptoms of depression, anxiety and fear of recurrence. It teaches them to be mindful of today and enjoy today. In our lives often we’re focused on tomorrow but sometimes tomorrow doesn’t come. So it teaches them to really value today."

The study is funded by the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

Writer: Missy Kavanaugh
Source: Dr. Cecile Lengacher, USF College of Nursing
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