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Researchers focused on patient-centered medicine are increasingly trying to identify baseline factors that predict treatment success. Because the quantity and function of lymphocyte subsets change during stress, we hypothesized that these subsets would serve as stress markers and therefore predict which breast cancer patients would benefit most from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)-facilitated stress relief. The purpose of this study was to assess whether baseline biomarker levels predicted symptom improvement following an MBSR intervention for breast cancer survivors (MBSR[BC]). This randomized controlled trial involved 41 patients assigned to either an MBSR(BC) intervention group or a no-treatment control group. Biomarkers were assessed at baseline, and symptom change was assessed 6 weeks later. Biomarkers included common lymphocyte subsets in the peripheral blood as well as the ability of T cells to become activated and secrete cytokines in response to stimulation with mitogens. Spearman correlations were used to identify univariate relationships between baseline biomarkers and 6-week improvement of symptoms. Next, backward elimination regression models were used to identify the strongest predictors from the univariate analyses. Multiple baseline biomarkers were significantly positively related to 6-week symptom improvement. The regression models identified B-lymphocytes and interferon-γ as the strongest predictors of gastrointestinal improvement (p < .01), +CD4+CD8 as the strongest predictor of cognitive/psychological (CP) improvement (p = .02), and lymphocytes and interleukin (IL)-4 as the strongest predictors of fatigue improvement (p < .01). These results provide preliminary evidence of the potential to use baseline biomarkers as predictors to identify the patients likely to benefit from this intervention.

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.