A new study conducted at the University of California, Irvine has revealed that telephone-counselling may not only be effective in improving the quality of life for cervical cancer survivors, but also in boosting their immune systems to fight stress-related effects that spring from the disease.
The researchers said that besides reporting psychological and social benefits, the women participants in the study also showed improved anti-tumour immune responses.
They said that the results of their study highlight the importance of a "mind-body" connection for surviving cancer with a higher quality of life.
"Cervical cancer survivors frequently experience profound and long-lasting quality of life issues, yet they often do not avail themselves of cancer support resources and are in desperate need of psychosocial interventions that work for them," said Lari Wenzel, associate professor of medicine and public health at UC Irvine and co-lead author of the study.
"This telephone-counselling strategy provided broad access to help women manage the stressors associated with cancer and its treatment," she added.
Her team studied 50 women from September 2004 to December 2005.
All the study participants had completed primary cervical cancer treatment at least six months before starting the counselling program, which focussed on stress and emotion management and health and wellness issues.
The researchers zeroed in on the psychological and social effects the counselling might have on the subjects. They also tested whether there was any "mind-body" connection, an idea that behavioural interventions can affect other parts of the body.
The researchers observed that women who completed the counselling program showed a shift in the immune system toward the type of immune response that seeks out and destroys tumour cells.
Dr. Edward Nelson, an oncologist at the university who jointly led the study, said that the shift in those biomarkers was associated with the quality of life improvements that resulted from the telephone-counselling sessions, which were aimed at relieving stress amongst the participants.
He pointed out that previous studies had shown that chronic stress could hamper the immune system's ability to destroy tumour cells.
"Our counselling program is showing that stress reduction can positively influence cancer survivorship psychologically, socially and, potentially, medically. There is a great deal of public interest in the mind-body connection, and this study moves the field a step closer to identifying how psychosocial and complementary interventions might improve health outcomes," he said.
Nelson and Wenzel also revealed that they had received a grant of 3.1 million dollars from the National Institutes of Health to conduct larger studies to further confirm their findings.
Their current study appears in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.