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The impact of mindfulness-based interventions on symptom burden, positive psychological outcomes, and biomarkers in cancer patients

Authors Rouleau CR, Garland SN, Carlson L

Received 25 January 2015

Accepted for publication 2 April 2015

Published 1 June 2015 Volume 2015:7 Pages 121—131

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/CMAR.S64165

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 4

Editor who approved publication: Professor Kenan Onel

Codie R Rouleau,1 Sheila N Garland,2 Linda E Carlson3

1Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada; 2Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA, USA; 3Department of Oncology, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada

Abstract: Research on the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction and related mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) in cancer care has proliferated over the past decade. MBIs have aimed to facilitate physical and emotional adjustment to life with cancer through the cultivation and practice of mindfulness (ie, purposeful, nonjudgmental, moment-to-moment awareness). This descriptive review highlights three categories of outcomes that have been evaluated in MBI research with cancer patients – namely, symptom reduction, positive psychological growth, and biological outcomes. We also examine the clinical relevance of each targeted outcome, while describing recently published original studies to highlight novel applications of MBIs tailored to individuals with cancer. Accumulating evidence suggests that participation in a MBI contributes to reductions in psychological distress, sleep disturbance, and fatigue, and promotes personal growth in areas such as quality of life and spirituality. MBIs may also influence markers of immune function, hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis regulation, and autonomic nervous system activity, though it remains unclear whether these biological changes translate to clinically important health benefits. We conclude by discussing methodological limitations of the extant literature, and implications of matching MBIs to the needs and preferences of cancer patients. Overall, the growing popularity of MBIs in cancer care must be balanced against scientific evidence for their impact on specific clinical outcomes.

Keywords: mindfulness-based intervention, cancer, mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cancer recovery, outcomes

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