Mindfulness & Maintaining Mental Health During Cancer Treatments

According to recent reports from Cancer Australia, it is estimated that there will be more than 130,000 new cancer cases diagnosed across Australia in 2016, with more than 35 percent expected to be fatal.¹


As a result, the healthcare system has been faced with a surging demand for treatment programs that can help combat this life-threatening, dreaded illness. These treatments, unlike some more traditional methods, have not solely focused in the physical health arena; rather, there has been an increased interest in the areas of mental health, specifically anxiety and depression among cancer patients.²

Anxiety, Depression, and Cancer

Mental health did not surge to the forefront of the healthcare industry overnight. Medical practitioners have long faced the challenge of aiding patients beyond the physical elements, through the tough, existential questions, like “Why me?” or “Why did I get cancer?”

In fact, research estimates that approximately half of those diagnosed with advanced stage or terminal cancer continue to struggle with depression, anxiety and/or adjustment disorders.³ As a result, mindfulness, a treatment process that focuses on cultivating a focused awareness on the present moment, has gained traction in the medical community as a helpful aid to patients’ mental health struggles. Such therapies are meant to minimise the stress and emotional duress that patients often experience when discovering their diagnosis and/or beginning the treatment process.

Mindfulness-Based Treatments

Fundamentally, mindfulness therapies are developed to assist patients in dealing with the more existential facets of their illness – “non-reactivity, observational awareness, acting with awareness and concentration, describing, and a non-judgmental attitude towards an experience.”⁴

Such treatments may include:

  • Meditation – Patients may practise various types of meditation, though most involve being both quiet and still. However, there are treatment options, such as tai chi, walking meditation or chi gong, which have been utilised as more active forms of meditation.⁵
  • Yoga – Like meditation, there are a variety of yoga routines available to those seeking complementary or mindfulness treatment. They can be catered to individual physical abilities, including seated yoga for those unable to stand or support their full body.

Recent research has pointed specifically to both the mental and physical benefits of such practices, especially in the area of sleep, which tends to be a struggle for those involved in chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Studies focusing on mindfulness-based treatments have detailed how, over the course of treatment, patients who experience a gradual decline in stress and mood disturbance also experience improved sleep patterns.⁶

Additionally, in 2011, the journal Cancer Nursing published a study that found that a strong percentage of patients utilising mindfulness-based therapy experienced a number of positive effects, including better sleep quality, decreased physical pain, increased energy and a greater sense of calm and well-being.⁷

Should I Consider Mindfulness-Based Therapies During Cancer Treatment?

Though research regarding the positive effects of mindfulness-based therapies continues, there is no concrete evidence to firmly suggest that this, or any complementary therapies, can prevent, treat or cure any cancer or disease.⁸

As a result, it is important to consult with your general practitioner, as well as any specialists on your medical team, to determine what, if any, complementary treatments are available for your condition. Like any form of treatment, it is important to have peace of mind regarding your own safety, comfort and well-being.

It is also important, before beginning any complementary therapy, to ask yourself some some important questions regarding the treatment, such as:

  • What are the goals of the therapy?Is this particular therapy geared towards cancer patients specifically?
  • How will this therapy affect your regular medical treatment?
  • What are the costs of such treatments, and are they covered by your health insurance?
  • What are the qualifications of the professional and organisation in question?
  • Who will be overseeing your treatment?

Any questions or concerns regarding complementary or mindfulness-based therapies should be directed towards your doctor, who can provide additional information regarding your diagnosis.

Where Else Can I Find Reliable Information?

If you are looking for additional information regarding complementary therapies, or if you are looking for reliable mindfulness-based treatments, the latest information can be obtained from your local Cancer Council.

Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20

Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm

Note: This article is intended for information purposes only. Pancare does not recommend substituting any regular treatment with mindfulness-based therapies.

Further Reading – References & Resources

Further Reading - References & Resources

  1. Cancer Australia, All cancers in Australia, https://canceraustralia.gov.au/affected-cancer/what-cancer/cancer-australia-statistics (May 9, 2016).
  2. Jeremy W Couper, Annabel C Pollard and Dianne A Clifton, “Depression and Cancer,” Medical Journal of Australia (2012).
  3. Carolyn Gregoire, “Mindfulness-Based Therapies May Help Ease Stress Of Cancer Treatment,” Huffington Post, April 17, 2013 (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/17/mindfulness-cancer-treatment-therapies-stress_n_3095435.html)
  4. Greg R Sharplin, Simeon B W Jones, Barbara Hancock, Vikki E Knott, Jacqueline A Bowden and Hayley S Whitford, “Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: an efficacious community-based group intervention for depression and anxiety in a sample of cancer patients,” Medical Journal of Australia (2010).
  5. Cancer Research UK, Meditation, http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancers-in-general/treatment/complementary-alternative/therapies/meditation (May 8, 2016).
  6. Shelley A Johns, Diane Von Ah, Linda F.Brown, Kathleen Beck-Coon, Tasneem L Talib, Jennifer M Alyea, Patrick O Monahan, et al. “Randomized controlled pilot trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction for breast and colorectal cancer survivors: effects on cancer-related cognitive impairment,” Journal of Cancer Survivorship (November 2015).
  7. Huffington Post, April 17, 2013.
  8. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancers-in-general/treatment/complementary-alternative/therapies/meditation
  9. Linda E Carlson, ” Mindfulness for Cancer and Terminal Illness,” in Louis S. Warren, ed., Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2011).
  10. Cancer Council Australia, Complementary and alternative therapies, http://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/treatment/complementary-therapies-and-cancer.html (May 9, 2016).