Telephone counseling may give cervical cancer survivors a boost to their well-being, and possibly their immune function as well, a small study suggests.
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found that among 50 cervical cancer patients, telephone counseling aimed at helping them manage stress and cope with their emotions appeared to improve the women’s quality of life.
What’s more, there was evidence that the intervention bolstered patients’ immune system function.
The findings are published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
Among cancers, cervical cancer has been shown to take a particular toll on survivors’ quality of life. Many women suffer prolonged depression and anxiety, as well as social, sexual and financial problems that last long after treatment has ended, explained Dr. Lari Wenzel, one of the lead researchers on the current study.
This may be particularly true of minority and other medically underserved women, she told Reuters Health.
Telephone counseling, Wenzel noted, could offer a way to reach women who typically do not get traditional face-to-face counseling - which is both less convenient and more expensive.
For their study, Wenzel and her colleagues randomly assigned 50 cervical cancer survivors to one of two groups: one that received standard follow-up care only, and one that also received six telephone counseling sessions with a psychologist.
All of the women had completed their cancer treatment at least six months earlier.
In general, the researchers found, women who completed phone counseling showed an improvement in their quality of life. That improvement correlated with a change in immune system activity; specifically, blood tests showed a shift toward a type of immune response that helps suppress tumors
It’s not clear that stress reduction actually led to the improved immune response, according to Dr. Edward Nelson, the other lead researcher on the work.
However, he told Reuters Health, it is possible that “changes in coping and stress levels” influence the immune system.
The findings, according to the researchers, are in keeping with the general concept of the “mind-body connection,” which, in part, holds that therapies aimed at changing thoughts and emotions can affect physical health as well.
The researchers have begun a larger study of 250 women to try to confirm the current findings.
SOURCE: Clinical Cancer Research, April 2008.