Cancer Survivor Mindfulness Influences Health Characteristics of Primary Support Person

A diagnosis of cancer can be a terrifying experience not only for the patient, but for his/her primary social support person (PSSP) as well. Much of current cancer research is aimed at treating the individual with the diagnosis and increasing his/her quality of life. Up until recently, understanding the impact of a cancer diagnosis on the survivors’ surrounding social networks and PSSP had yet to receive the attention it deserved.

Dr. David Black, USC Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine, and colleagues at the Keck School of Medicine sought to examine psycho-social health related symptoms of cancer survivors and their PSSP in order to understand interpersonal dynamics and develop future preventive interventions for this dyad.

Not only did authors target gaps in existing literature regarding survivors’ PSSPs, but also underrepresented communities including Hispanics – who often “have less access to preventive services and medical care.” The participants of this study included 409 Hispanic survivors with a colorectal cancer diagnosis and forty-seven of their PSSPs.

Participant data were collected using validated questionnaires assessing employment of daily activities, health-related behaviors (smoking, alcohol use, physical activity) and psychosocial (fatigue, perceived stress, dispositional mindfulness).

Results showed that among suvivors and PSSPs alike, mindfulness was negatively associated with stress, smoking, and alcohol consumption. Among survivors, there was also an inverse association between mindfulness and fatigue that was partially mediated by reduced stress. Interestingly, the greater level of mindfulness reported by the survivor, the lower level of stress the PSSP conveyed, perhaps indicating mindfulness as protective on interpersonal processes.

Despite initial findings suggesting the disposition of mindfulness to have a possible role in the health of cancer survivors and their PSSP, “only a small proportion of patients reported using mind–body interventions such as mindfulness-based meditation.” Thus, authors suggest “a possible role for integrating methods to enhance mindfulness in such health promotion activities in clinical and community settings.”

Augmenting mindfulness at the survivor and PSSP levels could be the focus of future efforts dedicated to improving the health and quality of life of cancer survivors and their social networks.

Posted in Research.