The efficacy of mindfulness as a complementary cancer therapy
Joyce, Patrick Donan
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Cancer is a life-changing disease that introduces an abundance of psychosocial stress into patient's lives. Exposure to psychosocial stress over periods of weeks or more has a maladaptive effect on the human immune system. Chronic psychosocial stress means elevated activates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) and the sympathetic-adrenomedullary (SAM) axes which over time induce deleterious physiological effects in the form of glucocorticoid resistance, chronic low-level inflammation, and inhibition of leukocyte telomerase activity. Because these down-stream physiologic effects of psychosocial stress have oncogenic implications, the effective management of chronic stress inherent to a cancer diagnosis should positively impact the efficacy of current cancer therapies. Mindfulness is an age-old concept that has recently gained traction in the medical community for its utility as a cognitive therapy in treating patients with mental health disorders. Although the study of mindfulness as a complementary cancer therapy is in its relative infancy, other examples of mind-body medicine have already been documented to help treat many psychological side effects of cancer including anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation, and pain. It has been theorized that mindfulness acts by providing a cognitive strategy to buffer the harmful effects of psychosocial stress. Mindfulness elicits discrete effects on human psychology and physiology that are conducive to the efficacy of current cancer treatments. Mindfulness techniques have shown promise in providing relief for many of the psychological side effects of a cancer diagnosis. In this thesis, we explore the psychological and physiological effects of mindfulness practice that counter-act many of the harmful consequences of chronic stress exposure specifically immunosuppression, chronic inflammation, and telomerase activity.