MD Anderson Tests 4 Different Mind-Body Therapies with Cancer Patients and Gets Impressive Results!

MD Anderson’s Department of Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine recently evaluated the impact of 4 different integrative, mind-body therapies on the symptom distress of cancer patients and their caregivers.

They looked at guided meditation, yoga, massage therapy, & acupuncture.

These were preliminary studies that got patient and caregiver feedback - not fancy randomized, controlled studies – but the data yielded meaningful results on standard measurement instruments, and with high population sizes.

This is an important acknowledgment by MD Anderson of the value of these techniques. They were a little slow to the party, compared to other hospital systems such as Mayo, Johns Hopkins, UCSF, and the Cleveland Clinic - and it’s gratifying to see them come on board.

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that subjects generally only received one - sometimes two - sessions of each intervention. In other words, a surprisingly low ‘dosage’ really delivered the goods on symptom relief. That’s worth noting – low cost, high impact. Check it out:

Group Meditation

In the pre- and post- design, 3 different kinds of meditation groups were offered: Power of Breath (PB), Sacred Sounds (SS), and Movement & Breath (MB), before and after which patients and caregivers filled out physical and psychological distress scales.

One hundred forty-two participants (76 patients and 66 caregivers) attended one or more guided meditation groups, and with all participants, the investigators observed clinically significant reduction/improvement in global distress scores (P < 0.0001), and in individual symptoms of fatigue (P < 0.0001), anxiety (P < 0.001), and shortness of breath (P = 0.001). Sense of well-being improved across the board (P < 0.0001).

The investigators concluded that a single meditation group class offered as part of clinical care resulted in relief of multiple self-reported symptoms, in both patients and caregivers.

(Lopez G, Chaoul A, et al. A Pragmatic Evaluation of Symptom Distress After Group Meditation for Cancer Patients and Caregivers: A Preliminary Report. Journal of Pain & Symptom Management. 2018 May;55(5):pp.1321-1326.)

Yoga Training

Similarly, the team looked at the impact of group yoga training. A population of 282 patients and caregivers were offered 2 different kinds of yoga classes: Lower intensity and Higher Intensity. They too completed pre- and post-yoga symptom distress scales.

The 282 subjects (205 patients, 77 caregivers; 85% female; ages 20-79 years) who attended one or more yoga groups all showed clinically significant reduction/improvement scores, in symptoms of anxiety, fatigue, well-being, depression, appetite, drowsiness, and sleep.

The investigators concluded that a single yoga group class resulted in clinically meaningful improvement of multiple self-reported symptoms.

(Lopez G, Chaoul A, et al. Group Yoga Effects on Cancer Patient and Caregiver Symptom Distress: Assessment of Self-reported Symptoms at a Comprehensive Cancer Center. Integrative CancerTherapies. 2018 Dec;17(4):1087-1094.)

Massage Therapy

For massage therapy, the same pre-post design was used with the same instruments to measure symptom distress on subjects receiving a single session of massage therapy.

Investigators analyzed data for 343 patients and 87 caregivers. For the patients, the most distressing symptoms at baseline were for sleep 4.22, fatigue 3.57, and pain 2.94; for caregivers, this was sleep 3.77, well-being 3.01, and pain 2.59.

Massage therapy was associated with statistically (p < .0001) and clinically significant improvements in symptoms of pain, fatigue, anxiety, well-being, and sleep. Greater massage duration (30 vs 60 min) did not lead to greater symptom reduction.

The team concluded that a single massage treatment resulted in acute relief of self-reported symptoms in both patient and caregiver groups.

(Lopez G, Liu W, et al. The effects of oncology massage on symptom self-report for cancer patients and their caregivers. Supportive Care in Cancer. 2017 Dec;25(12):3645-3650.)


Using the same basic design and scoring instruments, 375 participants received acupuncture treatment [mean age 55.6, 68.3% female, 73.9% white, most common cancer diagnosis of breast (32.8%) and thoracic/head & neck (25.9%)], 73.3% had at least one follow up acupuncture treatment [mean 4.6 (SD 5.1) treatments].

Worst symptoms at baseline were regarding sleep (3.92), fatigue (3.43), well-being (3.31), and pain (3.29).

The data revealed statistically significant improvement across many measures. Hot flashes had the highest mean reduction (-1.93), followed by fatigue (-1.72), numbness/tingling (-1.70), and nausea (-1.67).

The investigators concluded that outpatient acupuncture was associated with immediate & longitudinal significant improvement across a range of symptoms commonly experienced by individuals during cancer care.

(Lopez G, Garcia MK, et al. Outpatient acupuncture effects on patient self-reported symptoms in oncology care: a retrospective analysis. Journal of Cancer. 2018 Sep 8;9(19):3613-3619.)

We’re proud to have been hosting a mind-body party of our own for cancer patients, for coming up on 30 years. Our very first audio in 1989 was tested at University Hospitals of Cleveland in the Chemo Unit. We’ve been providing symptom relief and alleviation of suffering for cancer patients ever since. It’s very, very good to see the world catching on to Whole Patient Care. Welcome aboard, each and every one!