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Background and objectives. Cancer-related cognitive impairment has been acknowledged as a substantial limiting factor in quality of life among cancer patients and survivors. In addition to deficits on behavioral measures, abnormalities in neurologic structure and function have been reported. In this paper, we review findings from the literature on cognitive impairment and cancer, potential interventions, meditation and cognitive function, and meditation and cancer. In addition, we offer our hypotheses on how meditation practice may help to alleviate objective and subjective cognitive function, as well as the advantages of incorporating a meditation program into the treatment of cancer patients and survivors for cancer-related cognitive deficits. Findings. Various factors have been hypothesized to play a role in cancer-related cognitive impairment including chemotherapy, reduced hormone levels, proinflammatory immune response, fatigue, and distress. Pharmacotherapies such as methylphenidate or modafinil have been suggested to alleviate cognitive deficits. While initial reports suggest they are effective, some pharmacotherapies have side effects and may not relieve other symptoms associated with multimodal cancer treatment including sleep disturbance, nausea and pain. Several recent studies investigating the effects of meditation programs have reported behavioral and corresponding neurophysiological modulations that may be particularly effective in alleviating cancer-related cognitive impairment. Such programs also have been shown to reduce stress, fatigue, nausea and pain, and improve mood and sleep quality. Conclusions. With the increasing success of cancer treatment and the ability to return to previous family, social, and work activities, symptom management and quality of life are an essential part of survivorship. We propose that meditation may help to improve cancer-related cognitive dysfunction, alleviate other cancer-related sequelae, and should be fully investigated as an adjuvant to cancer treatment.
Mind-body practices are defined as a variety of techniques designed to enhance the mind's capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. A large percentage of the population, and especially people with cancer, participate in mind-body programs to help relieve stress, improve quality of life, and modulate physiological systems. At The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, we are conducting a number of clinical trials examining the biobehavioral effects of mind-body programs such as Tibetan Yoga, Hatha Yoga, meditation, and Qigong. Initial studies have found that these programs help to improve aspects of patient quality of life during and after treatment. More research is needed in this area with the use of appropriate control groups and thorough examination of the potential mediators of the benefits of the interventions to truly know the efficacy of these programs. It is clear that different mind-body practices have their place in oncology care. However, it is still uncertain which programs are most effective, and it will likely turn out that different programs are useful for different people at different times within the treatment and recovery trajectory. The key for health care professionals and patients is to encourage participation in some type of mind-body program to help improve aspects of quality of life.