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Mindfulness Can Alter Perception of Pain in Breast Cancer Survivors

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Mindfulness Can Alter Brain’s Perception of Pain in Cancer Survivors
Mindfulness can significantly improve brain health and pain perception in breast cancer survivors, according to a small Canadian study.

The findings suggest that an eight-week mindfulness intervention can reduce activity in parts of the brain related to pain and to emotional reactivity (having a heightened emotional response to something unpleasant).

The study, “Reduced Emotional Reactivity in Breast Cancer Survivors with Chronic Neuropathic Pain Following Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): an fMRI Pilot Investigation,” was published in Mindfulness.

After treatment, as many as half of breast cancer survivors will experience neuropathic pain, which is caused by damage to parts of the nervous system. This kind of pain can be difficult to treat with medications, and some medications, like opioids, carry substantial risks (i.e., addiction).

Mindfulness refers to paying attention to moment-to-moment experiences (and not worrying about things outside of the moment). In the context of pain management, the goal of mindfulness is to train the mind to accept pain, rather than to fight or control it.

“We have heard a lot about mindfulness over the past few years, about how it helps people relax and feel better,” Andra Smith, PhD, study co-author and a professor at the University of Ottawa, said in a press release. “If mindfulness, a non-pharmacological tool, can be used to help with neuropathic pain, women will feel better and might not experience such disruptive pain.”

To test this idea, Smith and colleagues designed a study (NCT02758197) that recruited 21 breast cancer survivors, who were split into two groups: 10 were allocated to a waitlist control group, while the remaining 11 underwent an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) interve

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