The American Cancer Society issued the following announcement:

Psychological interventions associated with breast cancer survival

A new study finds that breast cancer patients who participate in
intervention sessions focusing on improving mood, coping effectively,
and altering health behaviors live longer than patients who do not
receive such psychological support. Published in the December 15, 2008
issue of CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society,
the study indicates that reducing the stress that can accompany cancer
diagnosis and treatment can have a significant impact on patients’ survival.

Cancer patients undergo a significant amount of stress before, during,
and after treatment. Many researchers have theorized that providing
mental health services in addition to cancer care may improve patients’
health and even prolong their survival. But studies linking
psychotherapy to improved survival have had inconsistent results. To
test the hypothesis, Dr. Barbara L. Andersen and colleagues at The Ohio
State University conducted a randomized clinical trial with newly
diagnosed breast cancer patients that tested whether receiving a
psychological intervention could reduce the negative effects of stress
and ultimately change the course of a patient’s disease. Previous papers
have shown that the intervention significantly improved psychological,
behavioral, and health outcomes and enhanced immunity.

The investigators followed the 227 patients who had been treated for
regional breast cancer for an average of 11 years, noting any cancer
recurrences. Overall, they found that cancer recurred in 62 of 212 (29
percent) women for whom recurrence data was available; 54 of the total
group of 227 (24 percent) died. Patients who were randomized to the
intervention groups had about half (55 percent) the risk of recurrence
compared to the control patients. The patients who did suffer a
recurrence had been cancer-free an average of six months longer than the
patients in the control group, a 45 percent reduced risk. The study also
found patients receiving the intervention had less than half the risk
(44 percent) of death from breast cancer compared to those who did not
receive the intervention, and had a reduced risk of death from all
causes, not just cancer.

The authors hypothesize that psychological interventions may impact
immune changes that are secondary to stress hormones and that may
promote cancer growth or metastasis, and that in addition to treating
cancer patients with powerful antitumor medications, it is also
important to treat psychological distress as well.

“If efficacious psychological interventions to reduce stress are
delivered early, they will improve mental health, health and treatment-
relevant behaviors, and potentially, biologic outcomes,” the authors
wrote. “If so, there is the possibility for improved survivorship and
survival for cancer patients,” they added.

Article: “Psychological intervention improves survival for breast cancer
patients: A randomized clinical trial.” Barbara L. Andersen, Hae-Chung
Yang, William B. Farrar, Deanna M. Golden-Kreutz, Charles F. Emery, Lisa
M. Thornton, Donn C. Young, and William E. Carson III. CANCER; Published
Online: November 17, 2008 (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.23969); Print Issue Date:
December 15, 2008.