The National Institutes of Health has awarded the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing a $3 million grant to research whether stress-management techniques can improve immune system responses in women with breast cancer.
The five-year study will enroll 240 women receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer. The research will evaluate whether complementary strategies for stress management can ease psychological distress, positively affect physical symptoms and enhance immune function in breast-cancer patients. These “mind-body-spirit” interventions will be evaluated using multiple biological markers to shed light on a study participant’s health status over time.
Nancy L. McCain, R.N., D.S.N., the principal investigator, will test whether two complementary approaches -- tai chi training and spiritual-growth groups -- can reduce perceived stress and enhance coping strategies. Tai chi is described as meditation in motion that focuses on slow, graceful movements to increase strength and flexibility and to improve balance and circulation. Both of the approaches should normalize levels of stress-related hormones like cortisol and endorphins, she said.
“Psychological stress and physical stress generate a series of hormonal and biochemical interactions in the body that can influence health,” said McCain, professor in adult health nursing and an expert in psychoneuroimmunology, the study of mind-body-spirit interactions.
“We cannot completely eliminate stress from a person’s life, but by employing a variety of complementary “mind-body” interventions, positive changes in the neuroendocrine-immune system should follow.”