November 19, 2013 | Posted in:Clinical Studies

(University of Rochester Medical Center)


A cancer diagnosis elicits strong psychophysiological reactions that characterize stress. Stress is experienced by all patients but is usually not discussed during patient-healthcare professional interaction; thus underdiagnosed, very few are referred to support services. The prevalence of CAM use in patients with history of cancer is growing. The purpose of the paper is to review the aspects of cancer-related stress and interventions of commonly used complementary and alternative techniques/products for amelioration of cancer-related stress. Feasibility of intervention of several CAM techniques and products commonly used by cancer patients and survivors has been established in some cancer populations. Efficacy of some CAM techniques and products in reducing stress has been documented as well as stress-related symptoms in patients with cancer such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, yoga, Tai Chi Chuan, acupuncture, energy-based techniques, and physical activity. Much of the research limitations include small study samples and variety of intervention length and content. Efficacy and safety of many CAM techniques and some herbs and vitamin B and D supplements need to be confirmed in further studies using scientific methodology. Several complementary and alternative medicine therapies could be integrated into standard cancer care to ameliorate cancer-related stress.

Tai Chi Chuan (TCC) is a form of martial arts used for centuries in China as a health exercise involving a series of individual movements continuously linked together and performed in conjunction with deep breathing and mental concentration. At least 20 prospective, randomized, controlled clinical trials in a number of populations including the elderly, cardiovascular patients, and patients with chronic diseases have been conducted using TCC [100]. TCC as an intervention may provide benefits to cancer survivors related to physical deconditioning, cardiovascular disease risk, and psychological stress. In a randomized, controlled clinical trial conducted by Mustian et al., women who completed treatment for breast cancer and received TCC demonstrated significant improvements in functional capacity, aerobic capacity, muscular strength and flexibility, self-esteem, bone health, immune function, and QOL [101106]. Thus, physical activity seems to be an intervention capable of reducing anxiety and distress associated with the cancer experience. Conversely, higher levels of anxiety may reduce the likelihood of participation in physical activity following cancer treatment.

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