New research published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology suggests meditation reduces stress in women undergoing breast cancer biopsies.

Because breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in women, it’s important for women over the age 50 to get a mammogram every two years. While cancer screenings are the best way to find breast cancer early, when it is easier to treat, recent studies have cited anxiety and pain as potential harms that can deter them from further screenings. Those who make it to further screenings, like biopsies, have more anxiety and breast cancer-specific worry. This mental suffering doesn’t just affect the patient, it can also impact the doctor performing the mammogram.

"Image-guided needle biopsies for diagnosing breast cancer are very efficient and successful, but the anxiety and potential pain can have a negative impact on patient care," Mary Scott Soo, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Patients who experience pain and anxiety may move during the procedure, which can reduce the effectiveness of biopsy, or they may not adhere to follow-up screening and testing.”

With past research linking meditation to reduced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, pain relief and a better sense of self, scientists wondered if the spiritual practice could also benefit those undergoing breast cancer biopsies.

Researchers collected and analyzed data from 121 women undergoing breast cancer diagnosis at Duke University and randomly assigned them to receive one of three approaches: A recorded meditation, music, or standard care with a technologist offering casual conversation and support, as they underwent stereotactic and ultrasound-guided biopsy. Immediately before and after their biopsies, patients completed questionnaires that measured nervousness and anxiety, ranking biopsy pain between a low of zero to a high of 10, and assessing feelings of weakness and fatigue.

Patients in the meditation received a guided “loving/kindness" script that focused on building positive emotions such as compassion towards oneself and others and releasing negative emotions. Those in the music group had the options of listening to instrumental jazz, classical piano, harp and flute, nature sounds or world music. Patients who received standard care received supportive dialogue from the radiologist or technologist.

People in the meditation group reported significantly greater reductions in anxiety and fatigue after biopsy than those receiving standard care. Music was also effective in reducing anxiety and fatigue, but to a lesser extent. The standard-care patients reported increased fatigue after biopsy. The meditation group also showed significantly lower pain during biopsy when compared to the music group.

"Listening to guided meditation resulted in significantly lower biopsy pain during imaging-guided breast biopsy, and both meditation and music reduced patient anxiety and fatigue," said Soo, an associate professor of radiology at Duke Cancer Institute. "There are medical approaches to this — providing anti-anxiety drugs — but they sedate patients and require someone to drive them home.”

Researchers hope to scale up this study to include a multi-center trial to see if their findings could be generalized to different practices.

Source: Soo M, Jarosz J, Wren A, et al. [wrote article without the study..waiting for study and quotes]. Journal of the American College of Radiology. 2016.