Mindfulness-based meditation could lessen some symptoms associated with cancer in teens, including depression and sleep quality in girls, according to the results of a preliminary study. Mindfulness-based meditation focuses on the present moment and the connection between the mind and body. These study results were presented at the American Psychosomatic Society Meeting in San Francisco, California, on March 13, 2013.

Adolescents living with cancer face multiple challenges. These include physical symptoms from their disease, anxiety and uncertainty concerning disease progression, anticipation of physical and emotional pain due to illness and treatment, changes related to living with cancer, and fear of their disease recurring if they achieve remission.

In a prospective study, 13 adolescents with cancer completed questionnaires covering mood (positive and negative emotions, anxiety, depression), sleep, and quality of life.  Eight of the adolescents were offered eight mindfulness-based meditation sessions and the other five adolescents in the control group were put on a wait-list. The eight sessions were 90 minutes long and took place weekly. After the last meditation session, patients from both groups filled out the same questionnaires a second time.

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“We analyzed differences in mood, sleep, and quality of life scores for each participant and then differences between each group to determine if mindfulness sessions had an effect. We found that teenagers who participated in the mindfulness group had lower scores for depression after our eight sessions. Girls from the mindfulness group reported sleeping better,” said Catherine Malboeuf-Hurtubise, a PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Montreal in Quebec, Canada. “Our results suggest that mindfulness sessions could be helpful in improving mood and sleep in teenagers with cancer, as previous oncology research with adults has suggested.”

Differences between both groups were not large enough for the researchers to attribute the observed benefits solely to the mindfulness component of the sessions. “The social support provided to the adolescents in the mindfulness group may explain some of the observed benefits on mood and sleep,” Malboeuf-Hurtubise said. “Nonetheless, mindfulness-based interventions for teenagers with cancer may be a promising option to ease the psychological burden of living with cancer.”

Members of the control group will be offered an opportunity to undertake the meditation sessions in the future.