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Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) reduces symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fear of recurrence among breast cancer (BC) survivors. However, the effects of MBSR (BC) on telomere length (TL) and telomerase activity (TA), known markers of cellular aging, psychological stress, and disease risk, are not known. This randomized, wait-listed, controlled study, nested within a larger trial, investigated the effects of MBSR (BC) on TL and TA. BC patients (142) with Stages 0-III cancer who had completed adjuvant treatment with radiation and/or chemotherapy at least 2 weeks prior to enrollment and within 2 years of completion of treatment with lumpectomy and/or mastectomy were randomly assigned to either a 6-week MBSR for BC program or a usual care. Assessments of TA and TL were obtained along with psychological measurements at baseline, 6 weeks, and 12 weeks after completing the MBSR(BC) program. The mean age of 142 participants was 55.3 years; 72% were non-Hispanic White; 78% had Stage I or II cancer; and 36% received both chemotherapy and radiation. In analyses adjusted for baseline TA and psychological status, TA increased steadily over 12 weeks in the MBSR(BC) group (approximately 17%) compared to essentially no increase in the control group (approximately 3%, p < .01). In contrast, no between-group difference was observed for TL (p = .92). These results provide preliminary evidence that MBSR(BC) increases TA in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from BC patients and have implications for understanding how MBSR(BC) may extend cell longevity at the cellular level.

Objectives:This randomized controlled trial was conducted to examine immune recovery following breast cancer (BC) therapy and evaluate the effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy (MBSR) on immune recovery with emphasis on lymphocyte subsets, T cell activation, and production of T-helper 1 (Th1; interferon [IFN]-γ) and T-helper 2 (Th2; interleukin-4 [IL-4]) cytokines. Method: Participants who completed the study consisted of 82 patients diagnosed with Stage 0–III BC, who received lumpectomy and adjuvant radiation ± chemotherapy. Patients were randomized into an MBSR(BC) intervention program or a control (usual care) group. Immune cell measures were assessed at baseline and within 2 weeks after the 6-week intervention. The numbers and percentages of lymphocyte subsets, activated T cells, and Th1 and Th2 cells in peripheral blood samples were determined by immunostaining and flow cytometry. Results: Immune subset recovery after cancer treatment showed positive associations with time since treatment completion. The B and natural killer (NK) cells were more susceptible than T cells in being suppressed by cancer treatment. Women who received MBSR(BC) had T cells more readily activated by the mitogen phytohemagglutinin (PHA) and an increase in the Th1/Th2 ratio. Activation was also higher for the MBSR(BC) group if <12 weeks from the end of treatment and women in MBSR(BC) <12 weeks had higher T cell count for CD4+. Conclusion: MBSR(BC) promotes a more rapid recovery of functional T cells capable of being activated by a mitogen with the Th1 phenotype, whereas substantial recovery of B and NK cells after completion of cancer treatment appears to occur independent of stress-reducing interventions.