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Breast Cancer Patients Benefit From 3-Day Nature Retreat

Breast Cancer Patients Benefit From 3-Day Nature Retreat

CLEVELAND—Preliminary results suggest that breast cancer survivors who attend a 3-day nature retreat designed for women who have been treated for breast cancer may realize positive biological and psychological health benefits for as long as a year after the event.

A study examining the effects of participation in the retreat is being conducted by the HealthEmotions Research Institute of the University of Wisconsin in conjunction with the Breast Cancer Recovery Foundation, a private nonprofit organization in Madison, Wisconsin.

Teresa E. Woods, PhD, clinical health psychologist and research scientist for the HealthEmotions Research Institute, presented the research project at the 33rd annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Education.

The breast cancer recovery retreats sponsored by the Breast Cancer Recovery Foundation are intended to provide emotional support for both the losses and challenges created by breast cancer. The retreats also emphasize the achievement of new physical skills, such as sailing, canoeing, and dog sledding. Most of the retreats take place on Madeline Island in Lake Superior.

The study is examining women before the retreat, shortly after the retreat, and 1 year later. Dr. Woods said that researchers measure immune system stress, mood, body image beliefs, coping strategies, general functioning, physical activity, and overall quality of life in retreat participants. Immune system stress is measured by salivary cortisol levels.

Forty-eight women, in various stages of the study, have been enrolled so far. Early results based on 14 women who were examined 1 year after their retreat showed a statistically significant decrease in levels of depression and anxiety after controlling for life events, including cancer progression.

“We are very excited by the results,” Dr. Woods said, “particularly by the effect the retreat seemed to have even 1 year later.” However, she emphasized that these results are preliminary and are based on a small sample. She observed that the discovery of the mechanism that explains how mood affects disease progression “challenges us all.”

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