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Meditation for Cancer

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Updated May 31, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

For people with cancer, meditation may offer myriad benefits when combined with standard care. Shown to reduce stress, relieve anxiety, aid in pain management, and boost mood, regular meditation may help cancer patients cope with their condition (as well as with the negative side effects of cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation).

Meditation for People with Cancer

Meditation typically involves concentrating on your breath, or on a repeated word or phrase (known as a "mantra"). Among the many different meditation styles is mindfulness meditation, which emphasizes focusing your attention on the present moment. Although meditation is often practiced on one's own, some cancer treatment centers offer meditation sessions guided by doctors or other mental-health professionals.

Meditation Benefits for People with Cancer

While research on meditation and cancer is somewhat limited, a number of studies suggest that meditation may be a valuable addition to cancer treatment. In a 2006 research review, for instance, investigators looked at nine studies on mindfulness meditation and cancer. Results revealed that practicing mindfulness meditation yielded "consistent benefits," including improvements in psychological functioning, stress levels, coping ability, and overall wellbeing.

More recent research shows that meditation may help protect against cognitive impairment, a common problem among people with cancer. Thought to result from a number of factors (such as reduced hormone levels, fatigue, and distress), cancer-related cognitive impairment is known to weaken quality of life among people dealing with cancer. In their analysis of several studies on meditation and cancer-related cognitive impairment, researchers found that meditation may help improve cognitive function (as well as ease stress, reduce fatigue, lessen pain, and improve mood and sleep quality) among cancer patients and survivors.

Should You Use Meditation in Treatment of Cancer?

Given the findings from available research, it's possible that practicing meditation could offer certain benefits to people coping with cancer. However, it's critical to note that meditation can't treat cancer itself, and that attempting to self-treat cancer with meditation (or any type of alternative therapy) may be extremely hazardous. If you're interested in meditation, talk to your doctor about how to safely incorporate a meditation practice into your cancer treatment program.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. "Meditation".

Biegler KA, Chaoul MA, Cohen L. "Cancer, cognitive impairment, and meditation." Acta Oncol. 2009;48(1):18-26.

Ott MJ, Norris RL, Bauer-Wu SM. "Mindfulness meditation for oncology patients: a discussion and critical review." Integr Cancer Ther. 2006 Jun;5(2):98-108.

Tacón AM. "Meditation as a complementary therapy in cancer." Fam Community Health. 2003 Jan-Mar;26(1):64-73.

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