Surviving breast cancer is a big victory. But it comes with a lot of psychological stress, reduced quality of life, and the constant threat of relapse. Health experts believe that postcancer care and follow-up for breast cancer survivors should include psychological intervention that would address the previously mentioned issues.
Researchers at the Ohio State University in Columbus and at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center compared women had breast cancer, and randomly received either a psychological intervention or standard assessment during posttreatment and were followed up for about 11 years.
Psychological intervention included the following clinical objectives for patients:
understand the nature of cancer stress; learn tangible ways to reduce stress and improve quality of life; maintain adherence and follow-up to cancer care; enhance communication with medical care providers; increase well-being during treatment, facilitate recovery and improve overall health.
The study results showed that women who underwent psychological therapy have a 45% reduction in recurrent rates. A follow-up study also showed that these women had a 59% reduction in the risk of dying of breast cancer.
According to lead researcher Barbara L. Andersen
“Survival advantages occurred above and beyond the improvements from state-of-the-science oncology treatments received at an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center. An empirically supported psychological intervention for cancer patients can yield robust gains of enduring quality, and ones that may include important health benefits.”
The study results suggest that postcancer follow-up treatments should not only address the physical effects of cancer but the psychological impact of the disease that has some long-term consequences. The psychological stress of cancer leads to disruptions in quality of life, health behaviors and immunity, and all these contribute to poorer health outcomes of cancer patients. Providing psychological intervention can help reduce the risk for recurrence and mortality due to breast cancer.
According to Dr. Sarah Gehlert of The Brown School, Washington University, St. Louis:
“We currently have few empirically supported psychosocial interventions for use with women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. An intervention that increased survival would be incredibly valuable. It represents a new tool for improving the lives of women with breast cancer.”
Researchers are hopeful that these results can help not only breast cancer survivors but survivors of other cancers.