Less stress could help cancer patients

Chronic stress
associated with cancer
could negatively affect outcomes

Chronic stress shortens telomeres in cancer patients

Reducing chronic stress for cancer patients could improve health outcomes. Researchers collected biological samples in 31 women diagnosed with cervical cancer, then compared two groups in a study that measured the length of telomeres that are found at the end of chromosomes. Telomeres protect genetic information. Shorter length has been linked to shorter lifespan.

The findings showed enhancing quality of life with counseling sessions was associated with longer telomeres. The study also enhances understanding of the mind-body connection. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine conducted the study.

Edward Nelson, M.D., division chief of hematology/oncology at the University said, "For this study, we wanted to know if chronic stress was associated with accelerated telomere shortening in cancer patients, and if a psychosocial intervention that modulates the stress response could also modulate telomere length."

Women with cancer who were provided counseling were compared to those receiving usual care. Six session of counseling focused on enhancing health, improving relationships and sexual health was associated with telomere length that protects DNA and is linked to longevity and aging by scientists. 

The scientists say the findings, presented at the 102nd annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research are preliminary, but whether or not stress reduction improves outcomes from the effect on telomere length, Nelson says there is still "no doubt" that cancer patients can benefit from psychological counseling.