Mindfulness and Meditation in Pancreatic CancerAug 07, 2022
Pancreatic cancer is the deadliest of all major cancers, having only an 11 percent survival rate 5 years after diagnosis. In addition to its high mortality, the disease and its medical therapies are accompanied by a host of miserable side effects, including chronic pain, insomnia, fatigue, stress, and cognitive difficulties. Patients may also develop depression and anxiety due to the hardships they must endure while battling pancreatic cancer. Patients deal with the side effects of pancreatic cancer and treatment in a variety of ways, one of which is practicing mindfulness and meditation.
Defining Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness can be defined as completely having your mind in the present moment. Complete focus is placed on aspects of the present, with maximal effort being made to block out thoughts and worries regarding the past or future. Mindfulness is a calm mental state in which one’s emotions and sensations are accepted without judgment.
Meditation is an effective way to achieve mindfulness. It is an ancient practice that is common in Hindu and Buddhist religions. Meditation can involve observing a specific sensation, such as breathing, and placing total focus on that sensation without intruding thoughts. Meditative states can also be achieved by repeating a specific phrase or mantra. Yet another way to meditate is to attempt to entirely clear one’s mind of thoughts. Achieving a so-called “blank mind” requires significant mental discipline and is a skill that can be improved with practice.
How to Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
There are a wide variety of types of meditation to practice. Finding which type is most effective is a highly individualized process. Some common ways to meditate include:
- Body scan meditation: This process involves focusing on specific body parts in order to relax them. It is usually done methodically, starting at one area of the body and then moving to adjacent areas.
- Spiritual meditation: This type of meditation involves prayer, and it can be performed at home or in a place of worship. It is most helpful for those seeking spiritual growth and connection to a higher power. The way it is performed varies based on religious traditions.
- Mindfulness meditation: This category of meditation is the most popular, originating from Hindu and Buddhist traditions. It involves focusing on something in the present moment, whether that is an object, a physical process such as breathing, or a sensation. Mindfulness meditation causes one’s thoughts to be nonjudgmental and remain in the present moment, ignoring thoughts and worries that once existed.
- Transcendental meditation: Transcendental meditation entails focusing on a repeated, specific phrase. This phrase is called a mantra and is repeated throughout the process of meditation.
- Movement meditation: This type of meditation involves moving the body in some way. The most common form of movement meditation is yoga, but it can also be practiced through other types of movement, such as walking.
Those new to meditation can receive guidance through various phone apps such as Headspace or Smiling Mind.
Benefits for Pancreatic Cancer Side Effects
No matter the way you practice meditation or achieve mindfulness, there are benefits to your practice. This is especially true for pancreatic cancer patients, who must deal with extreme stress and brutal side effects. There are specific ways in which mindfulness and meditation can benefit each side effect. These include:
- Stress reduction: The most clear benefit of meditation and mindfulness is reduction of stress and tension. They help calm the mind and restore a steady, relaxed mental state.
- Chronic pain reduction: One of the most debilitating symptoms of pancreatic cancer is chronic pain. Studies have shown that meditative practices can minimize chronic pain, and even reduce the amount of pain medication needed by cancer patients.
- Energy level improvement: Meditation and mindfulness can also improve the energy levels of cancer patients and reduce their symptoms of fatigue. This is done in part by helping improve sleep quality.
- Anxiety and depression relief: Some pancreatic cancer patients can experience anxiety and depression while battling through their illness. According to the National Institute of Health, meditation can mitigate anxiety. A recent study also found that symptoms of depression were reduced after performing meditation-based cognitive therapy.
- Cognitive improvement: Chemo can often cause patients to have “brain fog,” or reduced cognitive ability. Meditation has been linked to improvement in mental function of patients undergoing chemotherapy.
In addition to benefiting patients by mitigating painful symptoms, meditation and mindfulness have no potential negative side effects. Since they have no risks, it is entirely practical for patients to begin implementing them along with their medical treatment. It is also a very cost-effective complementary treatment, costing little to nothing depending on the method.
Effects on Treatment Outcomes
There is no question that mindfulness and meditation can be effectively used as complementary therapies to standard medical treatment. However, the exact effect of mindfulness and meditation on treatment outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients requires more research to be accurately described. However, there have been cases where these practices seemed to play a positive role in a patient’s medical treatment.
A recent study revealed that pancreatic cancer patients undergoing surgery had both improved emotional state before surgery and lower postoperative pain perception. These effects were achieved after only a short psychological intervention, which shows promise for the efficacy and benefit of meditation practices for pancreatic cancer patients.
Additionally, a 2020 case report found that mindfulness and meditation improved quality of life for all groups of patients studied. In one case, it even extended survival time. More research needs to be done to confirm these results and extend understanding of the effects of meditation on cancer treatment outcomes, but these initial studies show promise for its efficacy as a complementary treatment for pancreatic cancer.
Mindfulness and meditation are relaxation techniques that can calm the mind and have extensive benefits for pancreatic cancer patients. The various types of meditation can reduce stress, chronic pain, anxiety, and depression. They can also improve cognitive function and energy levels in those being treated for pancreatic cancer. There is also promising initial evidence that they can have a positive effect on treatment outcomes.
At the very least, mindfulness and meditation improve the quality of life of pancreatic cancer patients by mitigating their extremely difficult symptoms. This improvement comes at little to no financial cost and no risk. Therefore, it is evident that mindfulness and meditation can feasibly and successfully be implemented as additional therapies alongside medical treatment for pancreatic cancer.