Mindfulness Messages During Radiation May Help with Emotional Side Effects

Cancer treatment can take a toll on a patient’s body but also their mental wellbeing. It’s common for patients to experience sleep issues, anxiety, and depression. A new study looked into how mindfulness therapy, which can address these issues in non-cancer patients, may help.

Researchers at Northwestern Medicine recently conducted a small study with 27 prostate cancer patients undergoing treatment for the disease. While the men received their 5-to-15-minute daily radiation therapy, they either listened to relaxing music or 3-to-6-minute mindfulness messages. The latter encouraged the men to focus on their breathing, posture, sounds, and environment to help them be more aware of their thoughts.

Older man listens to audio on headphones
PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK / DJORONIMO

David Victorson, lead researcher and professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern’s School of Medicine, explains the benefit, saying, “Listen to this enough and you start to notice thoughts come up. The goal is to see if you can observe them without reacting to them. That’s how to regulate our constantly thinking, ruminating, and reacting minds. It can be very helpful in managing anxiety, pain and fatigue.”

According to the study’s findings, published in Global Advances in Integrative Medicine and Health, the messages appeared to improve some of these issues for the prostate cancer patients. Compared with the control group that listened to relaxing music, the mindfulness patients had lower fatigue and sleep disturbance scores. Their scores on each decreased by 2.65 and 4.5 points, respectively, while the control group’s worsened. The researchers say their findings suggest that mindfulness may help with the physical and emotional side effects of radiation.

Woman relaxes as she listens to audio on headphones
PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK / STOKKETE

This may be especially important for men, who don’t necessarily seek out help with these issues.

Victorson explains, “Men with cancer — no matter the age — are a hard group to help because they don’t tend to engage in supportive care activities like their women counterparts. You build it and they don’t come. The fact that this intervention is passive — they don’t have to go to a support group, and they can be getting their treatment while we layer on symptom support — is a twofer.”

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