How meditation can benefit cancer patients

For cancer patients, meditation has been proven to reduce anxiety and pain and improve psychological well being and quality of life. (Biegler, et al 2009). Mindful meditation in particular has proven benefits for oncology patients. The goal of mindful meditation is to refocus ones thoughts shifting from stress and anxiety to a controlled, deliberate state of attention on the moment. In a 2008 National Institute of Health (NIH) publication Geeson has described this as “reshaping ways of thinking that engender improved emotional well-being” allowing one to “skillfully regulate one’s internal emotional experience in the present moment that may translate into good mental health long-term” (2008). The NIH publication further advocates for meditation for cancer patients noting multiple positive outcomes including;

  • improved attention, awareness and emotion
  • increased ability to recognize and accurately label emotions
  • increased and refined self-awareness
  • a positive influence on some other specific stress-related medical conditions including psoriasis, type 2 diabetes, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic low back pain and attention-deficit disorder
  • greater meaning and peace in one’s life as well as enhanced relationships with others which allow measurable freedom from suffering

Much of the research regarding meditation for cancer patients has focused on the outcomes of patients with breast cancer. Nidich, et all published a 2009 study comparing the outcomes of breast cancer patients who incorporated transcendental meditation into care with those who did not. The group who meditated demonstrated improved emotional well-being, social well-being, and better overall mental health.

Another 2010 study supported the use of a psychological program developed at The University of Massachusetts Medical Center entitled Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for breast cancer survivors. This program was shown to assist cancer survivors as they completed treatment and transitioned to their “normal” lives. The study focused on cancer survivorship, an area of cancer care that is receiving more and more attention. The authors found that after cancer treatment, “when patients are ‘discharged’ from medical care, they may be faced with may unresolved existential questions pertaining to the meaning of life and its manageability and comprehensibility” (Matsousek and Dobkin 2010). Meditation for this group of breast cancer survivors demonstrated positive outcomes including openness to change, self-control through self-awareness, embracing shared experience, personal growth and increase spirituality. The MBSR was felt to fill “a health service gap, possibly allowing the patients to learn to navigate and stay afloat in what may seem to be the large and small waves of their transformed lives” (Matsousek and Dobkin 2010).

Meditation has been described as “a wakeful hypometabolic physiologic state” allowing one to relax and reach an increased sense of focus at the same time. Controlled, deliberate breathing and purposeful thinking are generally key skills for all levels and forms of meditation. Meditation has sub groups, or styles, defined as; attention training, focused meditation, and mindfulness or insight meditation.  The specific style and frequency of meditation varies depending on one’s schedule and desired outcomes. For oncology patients, meditation may not be convenient during times of intensive treatment but may be valuable upon treatment completion.

The Botsford Cancer Center leadership and staff recognize the health benefits of several therapies and cancer patient support services including meditation, Reiki therapy, and massage therapy for our patients. We receive positive comments and observe the successes of these treatments as they compliment our medical care and therapy. These therapies assist patients and their loved ones throughout their cancer care journey.

To learn more about the Botsford Cancer Center or any of its patient support services, contact us any time.


Matousek, R. H. PhD, and Dobkin, PhD; Weathering storms: a cohort study of how participation in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program benefits women after breast cancer treatment. Current Oncology 2010

Nidich, Sanford, Fields, Jeremy, Rainforth, Maxwell, Pomerantz, Rhonda, Cella, David, Kristeller, Jean, Salerno, John, and Schneider, Robert; A randomized controlled trial of the effects of transcendal meditation on quality of life in older breast cancer patients. Integrated Cancer Therapies 2009

Greeson, Jeffry PhD, MS; Mindfulness research update, NIH Publications 2009

Biegler, Kelly, Chaoul, Alejandro, & Cohen, Lorenzo; Cancer, cognitive impairment and meditation. Acta Oncologica 2009

About Penny Widmaier, RN

Penny is a breast cancer nurse navigator for Botsford Hospital.
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