Women with breast cancer who participated in group therapy for 11 years were 56% less likely to die of the disease and 45% less likely to have their cancer return, according to a recent study.
Researchers followed 227 women surgically treated for breast cancer, half of whom participated for one year in therapy groups; the other half received only assessments. Therapy included muscle relaxation, problem solving, strategies for increasing exercise and lowering fat intake, learning to communicate assertively, and coping with adverse effects of treatment. The goals of therapy were to improve the quality of patients' lives and health behaviors (diet, exercise, and smoking cessation), reduce stress, and facilitate treatment and follow-up.
Researchers found that cancer recurred in 29 women in the therapy group and in 33 women in the assessment-only group. The median time to disease recurrence in the therapy group was 2.8 years; in the control group it was 2.2 years. Of those in the therapy group, 24 died of the disease (the median survival time being 6.1 years) and of those in the assessment-only group, 30 died (the median survival time being 4.8 years). Multivariate analyses showed that the patients in the therapy group had a 50% lower risk of breast cancer recurrence and a 68% lower risk of death from breast cancer than patients in the assessment-only group.
These findings confirm the earlier work of David Spiegel of Stanford University, who found that cancer patients' participation in support groups increased the length and quality of their lives. According to Pamela J. Haylock, interim executive director of the Association for Vascular Access and a cancer care consultant, few have been able to duplicate his results. "Finally we're seeing similar findings," says Haylock, who has hosted retreats for breast cancer patients. "Women with breast cancer tell us they like finding people who are going through or have gone through a similar experience."
Researchers have warned of the relationship between stress and health for some time; in this study, women who focused on stress reduction and took part in daily muscle relaxation exercises had even better results than others in the therapy groups.
Andersen BL, et al. Cancer 2008;113(12): 3450–8.