Mindfulness meditation practice conducted by patients with colorectal cancer (CRC) at the beginning of chemotherapy infusion decreases cortisol blunting, according to a study published in Cancer.1

Cortisol blunting is associated with disease progression and shorter survival, and is a marker of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysregulation. This occurs because of the physical and emotional stressors experienced by patients.

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of mindfulness meditation practiced during chemotherapy on the neuroendocrine system in patients with CRC.

The study randomly assigned 57 patients receiving adjuvant chemotherapy to conduct 20 min of audio-video–guided mindfulness meditation or 40 min of resting during their infusion. Both groups watched a 20-min educational module about CRC.

Cortisol was measured in saliva samples that were collected at baseline and then every 20 min for the first 60 min of the chemotherapy infusion.

Patients in the mindfulness arm demonstrated a relative increase in cortisol reactivity compared with the resting control group at 20 min (P = .03). The rising cortisol was evident in 69% of patients in the mindfulness group compared with 34% in the resting control group (P = .02).

Mindfulness practice was also inversely associated with fatigue (r = -0.46; P < .01) and distress (r = -0.45; P < .01), but not biobehavioral measures.

According to the authors, “our findings show that mindfulness practice may awaken acute cortisol reactivity as a counter to the HPA axis blunting that is often observed in cancer patients.”

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Though more studies are needed to explore these findings, the authors wrote that “patient engagement in mindfulness practice appears to be relevant to cancer-related physicology during chemotherapy, and this might have implications for treatment responses and longer term cancer survivorship outcomes.”

Reference

  1. Black DS, Peng C, Sleight AG, Nguyen N, Lenz HJ, Figueiredo JC. Mindfulness practice reduces cortisol blunting during chemotherapy: a randomized controlled study of colorectal cancer patients. Cancer. 2017 Apr 7. doi: 10.1002/cncr.30698 [Epub ahead of print]