Research Supports Mind-Body Therapy For Cancer

Mind-body therapies that include yoga, meditation, relaxation techniques, and guided imagery can help significantly in several ways and reduce stress. I would like to begin with, “Cancer Care for the Whole Patient”, a 2007 report written by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The report offers guidelines and recommendations to medical caregivers. Here are abstracts:

Cancer care today often provides state-of-the-science biomedical treatment, but fails to address the psychological and social (psychosocial) problems associated with the illness. This failure can compromise the effectiveness of health care and thereby adversely affect the health of cancer patients. 

The burden of illnesses and disabilities in the United States and the world is closely related to social, psychological, and behavioral aspects of the way of life of the population. (IOM, 1982:49–50)

Health and disease are determined by dynamic interactions among biological, psychological, behavioral, and social factors. (IOM, 2001:16)

Because health … is a function of psychological and social variables, many events or interventions traditionally considered irrelevant actually are quite important for the health status of individuals and populations. (IOM, 2001:27)

According to the paper cited below and in previous blog posts, sustained stress has negative consequences on health because of its “profound” psychological, behavioral, and physiologic effects. Therefore it makes sense to decrease stress and help patients adjust to cancer treatment, the complications that occur, and the adverse reactions that are suffered. There could be implications in improving future health as well.

Yoga, meditation, relaxation techniques, and guided imagery are among the mind-body therapies that are now mainstream. An analysis of 116 studies (Journal of the Society of Integrative Oncology report) found that mind-body therapies reduced anxiety, depression, mood disturbance, and improved coping skills in patients.  In addition, there is further evidence to support the use of these therapies for hypertension, insomnia, nausea, reduction in procedural pain, decrease in stress hormones, and an improvement in immunity in cancer patients.

In a study that used a seven-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for breast and prostate cancer patients, there was a significant decrease in the cortisol and inflammatory cytokines levels versus the control group. The positive effects continued for 6-12 months after the training. MBSR includes meditation, yoga, and group dynamics.

In another yoga-based study on breast cancer (stage O-II) in India, 83% of women were undergoing radiotherapy and no chemotherapy. The study found improved quality of life, increase in natural killer cell toxicity and decreased inflammatory cytokines and cortisol levels in the yoga group versus the control group. Yoga included stretching, breathing, and meditation.

Similar results were found in a breast cancer study in India where women received yoga versus supportive therapy as they underwent conventional treatment which included chemotherapy. In the yoga group there was a significant decrease in the frequency and intensity of nausea related to chemotherapy. Patients reported better quality of life, mood, the natural killer cells were significantly higher in the yoga group and there was less DNA damage versus the control group.

These mind-body techniques need to be practiced regularly and as patients see the positive effects they feel a greater sense of control over their lives. They may be able to create a positive cycle that could be helpful in coping and treatment. Mind-body therapies can potentially transform the meaning of cancer and mitigate the stress it invariably brings.

Source: “Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines for Integrative Oncology: Complementary Therapies and Botancials”, Journal of the Society of Integrative Oncology, Vol 7,  No 3 (Summer) 2009, pp: 85-120

6 thoughts on “Research Supports Mind-Body Therapy For Cancer

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  1. Excellent job bringing the research forward–I know from working with my patients that alternative medicine can make a significant difference in their well-being. And–who can forget that famous seminal case of Garrett Porter, the 9-year-old with inoperable brain tumor who visualized himself to health? Seems like that might have been the foundation work for a bunch of what came later. Check out the inspirational story, even if it’s for a repeat, at It will make your spirit sing.


    1. Candida, thank you for your feedback. It is challenging to get feedback, or any input, from the medical world. So your comment is welcomed with joy! If you have any resources which may be helpful to cancer patients and their caregivers, we would love to share them. Hope Connections for Cancer e-mailed saying it was sharing our website with its members.

      I did not know about the nine-year old boy’s story. Thanks for the link–you are right, it is incredibly inspiring. I will put the link in a separate blog post and attribute it to you as most readers do not look at comments.


  2. Okay–let me just start with hypnotherapy, which I researched at length in regards to chemo side effects, quality of life for cancer patients, and treatment of hot flashes in breast cancer patients. The summary of the work, with all research studies cited is in “Beyond “You Are Getting Sleepy”: Cancer and Hynotherapy” at I surveyed the lit on how exercise during cancer can make a radical difference in side effect profile, effectiveness of treatment, recover rates and quality of life in “You Can’t Keep a Good Fiend Down: Exercise and Cancer” at, and a quirky one on the value of embracing pain, which half of which related to cancer patients, at And one that might be of interest to your readers, and again includes current research, is a piece on the value of humor in longevity, in cancer pain, and in quality of life. That’s kind of a fun one, extensively researched and cited, at If any of those would be helpful to your readership, please go ahead and put them in blog posts–I’m hoping some will motivate readers (exercise, laughter), and some will makek them aware of the options they have open (hypnotherapy, embracing pain mindfully). I hope that’s helpful to you and all your readers. Best wishes in spreading the word about alternative healing, so cancer patients get the best of all care, and don’t suffer needlessly, when there are options out there, Candida


    1. Thank you sharing! Resting our minds in natural beauty can be so soothing and healing–becoming one with Nature.


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