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Anticancer Lifestyle program focuses on impact of stress

Twenty-five years ago, Barbara Andersen began studying women with gynecological cancer. In particular, she studied sexual difficulties they were having.

Just beginning her career as a research psychologist, she “was astounded nothing was being done for these women” in terms of dealing with the psychological trauma of cancer, she said.

She has spent her career so far at Ohio State University, studying the link between cancer and stress, developing research and evidence showing the web of connections between psychological, behavioral and biological factors of cancer.

Andersen will speak Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Concord City Auditorium about her research into the effect of stress on cancer.

The talk is part of the Concord Hospital Payson Center for Cancer Care’s Anticancer Lifestyle program.

Other researchers have shown that psychological factors don’t affect cancer onset, but in her work, Andersen has shown that reduced stress and improved psychological health can prevent recurrence. In 2008, one of her studies showed that participating in an intervention program reduced patients’ risk of dying of breast cancer by 56 percent after an average of 11 years.

Andersen and her colleagues ran 15 groups for 200 survivors of breast cancer, looking at specific interventions and whether they had any effect on the likelihood of recurrence.

One year-long study group, for example, met once a week for 18 weeks and then monthly for the next eight months in a support group frame work. In each session, the participants learned different active strategies for coping with stress, recovery, and their general health and well-being.

“We know what strategies changed what outcomes. They used progressive muscle relaxation on a regular basis, for example and that was instrumental in reducing distress,” Andersen said. “We know that exercise not only produced positive emotional benefits, it also reduced symptoms of illness. People liked the dietary component, too, but all it really did was change their diet.”

Though her research has been narrowly focused on cancer survivors, her talk Thursday will provide information generally on the physical effects of stress on the body, examples of effective stress reduction techniques, and an explanation of why they work to enhance coping abilities, she said.

Andersen has received numerous awards recognizing the impact of her research, including the Award for Outstanding Contributions in Health Psychology from the American Psychological Association in 2003 and the Peter Minton Hero of Hope Research Champion Medal of Honor from the American Cancer Society in 2004.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or
spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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