Washington, Jan 29 : A new study conducted by researchers at the Ohio State University has suggested that psychological interventions not only reduce emotional distress among cancer patients but also improve their health.
In a study of 227 breast cancer patients, the researchers found that those who took part in a psychological intervention program were rated as having better health by a research nurse, a full year after the program started.
And one particularly important finding was that patients who exercised received a higher dose of their chemotherapy drug, possibly improving their overall treatment.
"Patients who participated in the program showed fewer and less severe symptoms, and functioned better than those who didn't take part," said Barbara Andersen, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
"These were independent health evaluations by nurses who didn't know which patients were participating in the psychological intervention, so we know the effects were real and significant," she added.
Participants of the research were diagnosed with Stage II or Stage III breast cancer, had received mastectomies, and underwent chemotherapy during the course of the study.
Half of them received the intervention, in which they met weekly in groups of 8 to 12 with a clinical psychologist.
These sessions, which lasted four months, included training on relaxation and coping with stress, strategies to improve health behaviours, information on the value of exercise, communication skills for dealing with physicians, and other related issues.
After four months of these weekly meetings, participants met monthly for another eight months.
The researchers found that after 12 months, those who participated in the intervention increased their functioning score by 7 percent, compared to only 1 percent in the group that didn't participate.
The findings also showed that disease symptoms and signs and treatment side effects increased by 29 percent in those who didn't participate in the intervention, but only 14 percent in those who did participate.
"These changes were big enough to be clinically important. When patients have better health, they have less emotional distress, better quality of life, and are more likely to follow through on their treatment," Andersen said.
The study was published in the recent issues of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology and Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity.