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The Benefits of Other Mind-Body Therapies in Cancer Care





The MATCH Study: Mindfulness And Tai chi for Cancer Health. This innovative clinical trial conducted by the University of Calgary/Tom Baker Cancer Centre and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is now recruiting cancer survivors! As a participant you get to choose which treatment approach you want, or let us assign you to a group if you are equally interested in both. We will measure program effects on psychological, physical and biological outcomes including quality of life, mood, stress, balance, blood pressure, heart rate, immune function and more! Visit for more details.



by Dr. Erin Zelinski



We have already discussed the benefits of mindfulness-meditation and tai chi & qigong for the management of symptoms and side effects of cancer treatment, but there are a lot of other programs that may be beneficial to cancer patients or survivors. These include yoga, hypnosis, imagery and relaxation, and creative therapies. These programs are often referred to as mind-body therapies or techniques, but what does it actually mean when someone uses terms like mindfulness or mind-body therapies? Researchers define mind-body therapies as techniques that improve our ability to link our current mental state with physical experiences. You can also think about it is as the mind’s ability to affect bodily functions and sensory experiences.


A relatively large number of studies have been published outlining the benefits of yoga therapy in cancer care. Most of these studies have assessed multi-week programs that incorporate a range of simple, hatha-based postures. By and large, the results of these studies (most of which have been conducted with breast cancer patients) report improvements in overall quality of life, anxiety, depression, social and emotional functioning as well as decreased distress. Although there have been quite a few studies examining the effects of yoga on cancer care, the quality of the research is highly variable.


Whatever the type of yoga, a class specific to cancer (as opposed to a more general public class) may have additional benefits, such as a common understanding clientele,  more like minded social connection, and yoga accommodations common to cancer clientele (e.g., working with ports and pic lines). A good certified teacher will create the practice to suit those in the room.  Remember – you are not supposed to fit into yoga, it is meant to fit you.  ~Anne Pitman, Care Coordinator and Yoga Therapist, Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre


Hypnosis is another mind-body therapy that has been studied in cancer care and it seems to be an effective tool for the management of some of the challenges patients face. In psychotherapeutic hypnosis, the therapist or hypnotist provides suggestions about perception, mood, and sensation to the client. Strong evidence has accumulated over a number of studies that hypnosis can help patients manage pain and nausea, but its effectiveness for the treatment of other symptoms is less clear. Hypnosis can also be helpful for the management of distress during invasive diagnostic tests – especially for children.


When you battle cancer, most people go through chemo, radiation, multiple surgeries and medications, and insane, crazy side effects that can affect you mentally and physically. We have memory loss from the chemo and drugs. We have physical scars and loss of certain body parts. We lose our hair and our minds! I affectionately embrace my mind as a beautiful mess. My mutilated body I once thought was ugly and not acceptable in our society is now an awesome piece of abstract art. My body is the canvas, my surgeons are the artists and my scars are the beautiful masterpiece. ~ Eden Reynolds, Survivor


Imagery and relaxation techniques share many features with hypnosis, but they are generally self-administered and do not induce trance-like states. Guided imagery involves the construction of a sensory experience in order to achieve a state of relaxation. Imagery is often accompanied by relaxation exercises that aim to interrupt the body’s fight-or-flight response. Techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation aim to decrease heart rate, blood pressure, and relaxation in order to induce a state of calm relaxation. The bulk of the research on the use of imagery and relaxation in cancer care has focused on the management of pain and nausea and it appears to be as effective as hypnosis in the management of these symptoms.


The BMGIM (Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music) has positive effects on the immune and endocrine systems in persons suffering from chronic illness and cancer (Short, 2002) and therefore an important aim of BMGIM work with cancer patients is reducing psychological distress which can decrease a person’s immune function. Guided imagery helps with pain and symptom management, psychological pain and suffering by providing an outlet for addressing emotional issues and emotional relief and catharsis.  ~Dr. Amy Clements-Cortes, PhD, MTA, MT-BC, FAMI


Creative therapies make sense of the cancer journey through the integration of physical, emotional, and spiritual care using creative expression. Creative therapies such as music, art, dance, or writing therapy have been incorporated into cancer care at many treatment centres and there appear to be benefits in doing so. Researchers have reported that music therapy is beneficial for the management of anxiety, pain and mood. Likewise, movement or dance therapy also improve overall quality of life. Researchers have also reported that journaling or writing therapy can be especially helpful in the reduction of sleep disturbances.


Music therapy is strongly based in clinical models of psychology and psychotherapy, and through music interventions, therapists are able to personalize goals of care with clients. I have found that there is a great need for psychosocial and emotional care options that are offered in conjunction with traditional medical models; music therapy has been a key element of health care in many patients’ lives.  ~ SarahRose Black, BMus, MA, MMT, Music Therapist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and Kensington Hospice


Although more research needs to be done in order to understand the nature of the benefits of mind-body therapies, what has been done to date indicates that these therapies can be beneficial for patients coping with a range of symptoms and side-effects of cancer and cancer treatment. That said, not all mind-body therapies are effective for the same symptoms, so choosing those that are most effective for particular challenges is an important piece of designing integrative cancer care programs. Mind-body therapies should have a part in cancer care because they can be helpful tools for cancer patients.


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ErinZelinskiDr. Erin Zelinski is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Calgary and has been a part of the MATCH study since January of 2016. Erin was awarded her PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Lethbridge. Erin is interested in the link between physical health, inflammation, and brain function as well as how perception can influence illness expression.




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