Alberta Cancer Foundation

Mindfulness, tai chi and cancer care


Over the years I’ve written in this column about a number of complementary and mind-body therapies, including mindfulness meditation, tai chi and Qigong. Mindfulness-based cancer recovery (MBCR) is an eight-week program we developed at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary, which trains participants in mindfulness meditation and gentle yoga, while tai chi and Qigong (TCQ) are a form of martial art derived from traditional Chinese medicine that involves a series of slow specific movements or “forms,” done in a meditative fashion.

Both MBCR and TCQ programs have a growing evidence base showing they are useful adjuncts to usual care for improving quality of life and treating symptoms such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, sleep problems and pain. However, researchers have rarely compared different mind-body therapies head-on, to see which is better for helping with specific problems. So that is exactly what we are doing in the newly funded MATCH study. The study compares the effects of MBCR to TCQ on a range of psychological measures, physical fitness outcomes and biomarkers, which may be important for cancer progression. Psychological measures include anxiety, depression, quality of life, sleep patterns and pain, while assessments of strength, balance and endurance will be the physical markers. Biomarkers will include immune function, stress hormones, cell aging and gene expression. We will also look at whether participating in these interventions provides cost-saving measures to the health-care system and society in general, by helping people function better. It will be the first study of its kind to directly compare these interventions on such a broad range of outcomes.The trial also takes into account the importance of patient preference in determining how well people respond to therapies. We will be asking potential study participants if they have a clear preference for either mindfulness or tai chi, and if they do, they will participate in the therapy that they prefer. If not, we will assign them randomly to one or the other. In this way, we will be able to compare the effects of these two programs for people who really want them compared to people who are just interested in mind-body therapies more generally.We will also take into account the effects of more general patient qualities on outcomes, like gender, age, ethnicity, type of cancer, stage and other personal characteristics. In this way we can move towards more “personalized” behavioural treatments for cancer-related symptoms, prescribing interventions that appear best suited to specific types of people and problems explanation.

The More You Know

This groundbreaking and innovative study is being conducted by a large study team in Alberta, Ontario and the U.S., and will be offered to patients in the Calgary and Toronto areas.

We will be looking for people diagnosed with all types of cancer from the Calgary area who have completed primary cancer treatments to participate in the study beginning this summer. For more information call the Department of Psychosocial Resources at 403-355-3207 or visit