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BEHAVIORAL PROGRAM BOOSTS ANTIBODY THAT FIGHTS BREAST CANCER
- COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Women with breast cancer who participated
in a psychological intervention program showed lower levels of
a stress hormone and higher levels of a antibody that fights
breast tumors than did other patients, a new study has found.
In addition, women in the program were more likely than others
to get the full dosage of their chemotherapy, and showed lower
levels of depression and reported higher quality of life.
The results suggest that the program -- which included training
in relaxation, stress reduction, and coping strategies -- may
not only aid women psychologically, but may also help them fight
their disease, said Barbara Andersen, leader of the study and
professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
"The bright and encouraging news is that psychological interventions
have reliable biological effects that can benefit women with
breast cancer," Andersen said.
"To our knowledge, these are the first experimental data
to show a link between psychological interventions and an immune
response directly related to fighting breast cancer."
- She presented the results Aug. 21 in Boston in an invited
address at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.
- Andersen and her colleagues examined 115 women with Stage
II or Stage III breast cancer. Half of the women were enrolled
in the intervention, which included social support, training
in progressive muscle relaxation, encouragement to exercise regularly
and information on improving diet. The other half didn't participate
in the intervention.
- Researchers found that women in the intervention program
showed significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol
at four and eight months after surgery than did breast-cancer
patients who didn't participate. (Cortisol levels were about
one-quarter lower in program participants at eight months.)
- "Stress hormones such as cortisol are known to depress
the immune system, so it is very significant the women who participated
in the program show lower levels of cortisol," Andersen
- Program participants also showed significantly higher levels
(about one-quarter higher) of an antibody to mucin, a chemical
which at high levels is associated with the severity and progression
of breast cancer.
- Andersen said mucin antibody levels declined in both groups
during the stress of chemotherapy. However, women who participated
in the intervention program generally saw their antibody levels
rebound at eight and 12 months after surgery. But antibody levels
remained low for non-participants.
- The fact that the mucin antibody response was stronger in
program participants suggests that other anti-tumor responses
may also be stronger in these women. "We suspect that the
overall immune response is stronger in women who took part in
the intervention," Andersen said.
- Another encouraging finding was that program participants
also received a significantly larger dose of some chemotherapy
drugs -- methotrexate and 5-FU -- than did other patients. Although
women in both groups were initially prescribed similar doses
of chemotherapy drugs, Andersen said women who didn't receive
the intervention were more likely to have their dosage reduced
because of severe nausea and vomiting or because they simply
refused the treatment.
- For example, women in the intervention group who didn't comply
with their chemotherapy were about 10 times less likely to say
it was because of nausea or vomiting. Overall, about twice as
many non-participants refused chemotherapy as did program participants.
- "The intervention program helps women tolerate their
chemotherapy better so they can stay on track and receive the
full dosage," Andersen said.
- The program also helped women on a wide variety of psychological
and social measures, Andersen said. Compared to other patients,
participants reported less depression, more energy and even more
social support from their friends.
- "We're finding that stress and distress can be significantly
reduced in breast-cancer patients and that these effects are
linked to lowering of stress hormones, a stronger immune response,
and a better quality of life," Andersen said.
- This study is part of the ongoing Stress and Immunity Breast
Cancer Project headed by Andersen. Other investigators include
Olivera Finn of the University of Pittsburgh and William Malarkey
and William Farrar of Ohio State. Charles Emery, also of Ohio
State, presented some of the exercise-related results at the
- Among those funding the study are the American Cancer Society,
The Longaberger Company, U.S. Army Medical Research, National
Institute of Mental Health, the Walther Cancer Foundation, and
Ohio State's Elizabeth Gee Fund.
- Contact: Barbara Andersen, (614) 292-4236; Andersen.firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.email@example.com