A study looking at mindfulness as a way of helping with fatigue, anxiety and depression in women who have secondary breast cancer

Cancer type:

Breast cancer





This study looked at a form of meditation called mindfulness as a way of reducing stress. It was for women who had breast cancer that had spread to other parts of their body (secondary breast cancer Open a glossary item).

Many women with secondary breast cancer feel tired and lack energy. This is called fatigue. Some also feel anxious or depressed. In this study, researchers tried to find out if a programme that teaches mindfulness helped with these problems.

Mindfulness aims to increase your awareness of the present moment. If you are able to worry less about the past and the future, it may help to reduce stress.

This study was an 8 week programme in mindfulness training. These were group sessions. Those who took part also need to practice at home every day.

The aims of the study were to

  • Find out if the mindfulness programme was acceptable to people
  • See whether it was possible to run a randomised trial to study this more

Summary of results

The study team found that a mindfulness programme was acceptable.

The team asked 100 women to join the study. Of these, 20 women agreed to take part.

For the 80 women who didn’t take part

  • 27 women gave no definite reason
  • 19 women were too ill
  • 13 women felt it would take up too much of their time
  • 12 women had travel problems
  • 9 women were due for treatment when the mindfulness sessions were scheduled

Of the 20 women, 19 did the mindfulness programme. One woman decided not to start the programme because she was too ill.

The women filled in a number of questionnaires asking them about how they felt and about their quality of life Open a glossary item. They filled these in before they started the programme, twice during the programme and after the programme had finished.

When the researchers analysed the answers they found that the women’s tiredness (fatigue), depression and anxiety had changed for the better. The change in their tiredness and depression was small and could have happened by chance. The change in their anxiety could not have happened by chance and so was statistically significant Open a glossary item. The women’s quality of life had significantly improved as well.

The researchers also interviewed the patients and cancer doctors to find out how acceptable mindfulness sessions were and if they thought it was possible to do the programme in the NHS. When they analysed the discussion and the answers there were 3 main themes.

Barriers to participation and recruitment highlighted the challenges of getting people to join the study and the reasons they did not. Although the researchers didn’t interview the women who decided not to take part, the nurses had recorded their reasons. Many of the women reported not feeling well enough. Even those who felt well enough thought the mindfulness sessions were too structured and were not flexible enough in regards to the times they were held, for example ‘it didn’t fit with the days they were receiving treatment or hospital visits’.

How acceptable and beneficial the sessions were. Of the 19 women who completed the programme, 16 found the sessions acceptable and felt that the benefits were ongoing. Others described the sessions as a ‘useful tool for dealing with feelings’ and that the ‘scope is far more wide-ranging’. Many women talked about how they were better able to cope with emotional distress and were more accepting of the disruption their cancer caused in their lives. Other benefits were improved sleep and being better able to manage their weight. Those who took part generally felt that it would be acceptable and feasible to have in the NHS especially if the concerns relating to the time commitment, travel problems, costs and clashes with treatment days were resolved.

Why the sessions weren’t acceptable or beneficial. Of the 19 who took part, 3 women didn’t find the sessions acceptable or beneficial. The reasons why included a dislike of being in a group, the length of the course (8 weeks), needing to practice at home and difficulty with the technique.

The study team concluded that a mindfulness programme was acceptable but they may need to change it to better suit the people it is intended for.

We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Professor George Lewith

Supported by

NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer
NIHR Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) Programme
University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust
University of Southampton

Questions about cancer? Contact our information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 7635

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Deborah wanted to help other breast cancer patients in the future

A picture of Deborah

“Deborah agreed to take part in a trial as she was keen to help other cancer patients in the future. "If taking part in a trial means others might be helped then I’m very happy with that."

Last reviewed:

Rate this page:

Currently rated: 5 out of 5 based on 1 vote
Thank you!
We've recently made some changes to the site, tell us what you think

Share this page