How meditation affects the cells of breast cancer survivors

image from istockphoto

image from istockphoto

I have written about the benefits of meditation on several occasions, from how it slows ageing, can make us happier, helps us develop and maintain and calm state, and even how it impacts our genes.

So I just couldn’t wait to tell you about an amazing new study that can give hope to people who have or have had breast cancer.

Scientists at the University of Calgary, led by Dr Linda E. Carlson, clinical psychologist and professor of psychosocial oncology, measured telomeres (I’ll tell you a bit more about them in a mo) in breast cancer survivors who did a Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery (MBCR) program or who attended Supportive-Expressive Group Therapy (SET).

OK, telomeres first. They’re the little end-caps on DNA that help stop it unravelling. They’re a bit like the little plastic caps on shoelaces that help stop them unravelling. Gradually, as we age, through the effects of stress, lifestyle and ageing, telomeres get shorter. Once they get too short, the cells expires, just as your shoe laces are pretty much done when the plastic cap is gone. Telomere research seems to suggest that longer telomeres help protect us from disease and that telomere length is correlated with the likelihood of surviving diseases, including breast cancer and cellular ageing. In other words, if our telomeres stay healthy, our cells stay healthy, we stay healthy, and we live longer.

The scientists compared the telomeres of patients doing MBCR or SET against a control group of patients.

How the study was done

Breast cancer patients (stages I – III) who had completed treatment at least 3 months earlier were randomised into 3 groups.

One group attended MBCR sessions once a week for 8 weeks, which involved meditation and gentle yoga. The sessions were 90 minutes long and the women were also given CDs for doing the meditation and yoga at home.

One group attended 3 months’ worth of weekly 90-minute SET sessions. Each session encouraged openness and emotional expression and helped cultivate a group emotional support system. Some describe these sessions as ‘emotional detox’.

A third group – the control group – simply attended a 6-hour stress management seminar, which represented standard treatment.

The results

The scientists found that while telomeres had shortened in the control group, telomeres didn’t shorten at all over the 3-month period in the groups who did MBCR or SET. In other words, meditation, yoga, and emotional expression seemed to have a protective effect on cells.

Think about what this means! Basically, meditation, yoga, and emotional support are having a positive effect at the cellular level on breast cancer survivors.

I wanted to share this because there are so many people in the world these days affected by cancer, whether themselves, or it’s someone in their family, one of their friends or colleagues. As you may know, I lost my beloved dog, Oscar, to cancer just over 3 months ago. I think the more ways we know how to deal with cancer the better.

I love studies like this because they are empowering. The give hope where sometimes hope is very low. They show us that this is something that we can do. It’s something that we can take control of.

If you want a little more info or guidance on how to do MBCR or SET, here’s a link to the scientific paper. Here’s also some links to a book written by Linda Carlson called ‘Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery: A Step-by-Step MBSR Approach to Help You Cope With Treatment and Help You Reclaim Your Life’ (Amazon UK that also gives info on how to use MBCR.

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  1. Jo on February 25, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Hi David

    Thanks for this. There are so many types of meditation on offer I do get confused about the best for me. With a totally errant monkey mind I get bored quickly and need one that offers variety and guided with visualisation, pref. Can you recommend a method / CD / link / download? My mother died of breast cancer and my sister has just had surgery so it is very close to me. I’d like to let others in the family and friends know of a good meditation that isn’t too arduous. Silent following the breath ones just don’t engage me enough, sadly. Jo

  2. Valerie on February 25, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Wow, what an amazing timing David. Am having that very operation tomorrow and just (just!) discussed with a friend how I wanted, after the surgery, to find a way to integrate meditation in my daily life! Wow… thank you ever so much! If you know by the way of any good sites/ CDs where I could find guided meditations specifically for cancer, I would be very interested. Kindest regards again and spare a thought for me tomorrow at 11 (GMT).
    All the very best David, I still remember your seminar very well and use the little dance technique very regularly! 🙂

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on March 4, 2015 at 11:27 am

      Hi Valerie,

      I hope it all went swimmingly well for you. Lots of positive thoughts winging your way. 🙂

      Here’s a link to some people who are doing some great work with guided visualisation: The founder, Tessa, had cancer herself so developed a lot of resources, including guided visualisations, that could help people going through cancer.

      Keep victory dancing! 🙂


      • Valerie on March 4, 2015 at 10:29 pm

        Thank you so much David for this, really helpful and very much appreciated! I hope all is well with you. Keep doing what you do and thank you for your amazing energy and care! 🙂

        • David R. Hamilton PhD on March 5, 2015 at 9:51 am

          Thank you Valerie. Yes, all is well here, and I hope all is well with you too. Have a lovely day. 🙂

  3. Sallie on February 26, 2015 at 9:47 am

    Oh David! What perfect timing you have! I have had my surgery and start chemo next week for six sessions then three weeks of radiotherapy. I believe in transforming my challenge into a victory with positive thoughts, and your email is just perfect, thank you! We met at your talk in Brighton at the Friends Centre about 4+ years ago and had a chat, you said that you thought we had met before, we hadn’t but it did feel like old friends! Now you have given me more fuel to add to my sometimes weak positivity, and fired me up again! I thank you. Love Sallie xxxx 🙂

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on March 4, 2015 at 11:22 am

      Hi Sallie,

      I hope you breeze easily through your treatment. 🙂

      David 🙂

  4. Niki on February 27, 2015 at 8:06 am

    Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is a beautiful method of meditation which can be done anywhere. You can go to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Center for Mindfulness website at to find a teacher and to look at the extensive research. Blessings and happy meditation.

  5. Jean Messeih on February 27, 2015 at 9:28 pm


    I have a burning question related to “unfolding proteins” in the DNA of a lady who has Parkinsons Disease and MSA (which is Parkinsons +++++. ie it is more severe than Parkinsons.)

    Have you any suggestions as to how she can use imagery to correctly fold the proteins of the dna (or is it the genes?) back to how they should be. The problem is that I don’t really understand the gene/dna issue even tho’ I have read Bruce Lipton’s books and listened to his cd’s and your lectures on quantum healing. Please help. Thank you.

    • David R. Hamilton PhD on March 4, 2015 at 11:36 am

      Hi Jean,

      When visualising genes, I have found it useful to think of genes like little lightbulbs… y’know, like the Christmas tree ones that flash on and off. Then I imagine a ‘genetic program’ that is sustaining an illness to be like a pattern of lights that are switched on. Then I simply imagine turning those lights off. Then I imagine a pattern of lights that would represent a genetic program of health and wellness, and imagine turning those lights on.

      I hope that helps.

      David 🙂

      • christina on March 5, 2015 at 9:30 am

        When I was having radiotherapy I visualised the treatment going only to the site that needed the healing. I pictured the radiation not needed being taken away by protector cells (I asked for help from the angels here too 🙂 ). I imagined my skin, bones, lungs, DNA, blood etc all being protected in white light only allowing what was needed. I was fortunate to have had only a mild discolouration of the skin. X

        • David R. Hamilton PhD on March 5, 2015 at 9:50 am

          That is so great, Christina. 🙂 Thanks for sharing as I believe that knowing what you did will help others going through radiotherapy or even chemotherapy. Thank you! 🙂

  6. christina on March 3, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    How positive to find some research to support the healing benefits of meditation. I believe meditation and visualisation helped my healing process from breast surgery and radiotherapy. I am also starting yoga to complement the benefits. Good luck everyone going through treatment. Thank you David for your helpful work x

  7. Sallie on March 7, 2015 at 8:43 am

    Thank you David for your reply.
    Just a thought for others going through a challenging time – I invisage the chemo as Liquid Sunshine or Liquid Love/ Nectar , making my ‘good soldiers’ strong and my ‘bad soliders’ dissolve into nothingness. Good luck to everyone in your cleansing, keep strong, nurture and love yourselves. Remember that you are an amazing beautiful person. And if you have lost your hair, I feel it is about having the opportunity for loving yourself as who you really are – not for who your hair made you !
    I shall use the Christmas lights visualisation – that’s a great and magical one!

  8. on November 2, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    Find out all about breast cancer – a malignant tumor that has developed from the breast cells. We take a look at the causes, diagnosis and treatment options available.

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