ISBR technique improves quality of life for women at risk for breast cancer

TAU study suggests method can enhance well-being, improve quality of sleep, and assist in decision-making

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A new study conducted at Tel Aviv University (TAU) has determined that use of the Inquiry-Based Stress Reduction (IBSR) technique among women with increased risk of breast cancer can be very helpful in coping with stressful events, enhance emotional and psychological well-being, improve quality of sleep, and assist in decision-making. The study was led by Dr. Shahar Lev-Ari of TAU’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine, in cooperation with Professor Eitan Friedman of Sheba Medical Center and assistance from other researchers, as part of PhD student Clara Landau‘s dissertation. The study was published in JAMA Network Open.

Dr. Shahar Lev-Ari explains that in many cases, young women who are carriers of BRCA1/BRCA2 genes and at a righter risk for breast cancer suffer from a state of uncertainty with regard to their future, mainly due to the realization that they are highly likely to contract breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer. Furthermore, at present there is no effective treatment for preventing the illness, and the only active procedure for reducing the risk of cancer is a risk-reducing mastectomy and/or oophorectomy around the age of 40.

Researchers add that due to this uncertainty, these women suffer psychological and physical symptoms that seriously disrupt their normal lives. In the present study, the researchers sought to examine whether workshops and tools for promoting personal health, relief of stress and tension, and strengthening of mental soundness can improve the emotional well-being and quality of sleep of these women.

The study included 100 women carriers of BRCA1/BRCA2 genes currently under supervision at the Meirav Breast Center at Sheba Medical Center. As part of the study, the carriers learned and practiced an IBSR method aimed at providing the participants with self-practice techniques based on increased mindfulness, work on stress-causing beliefs (the “Inquiry” process), and cognitive reframing.

After participating in the workshops and self practice, the carriers showed great improvement in all aspects of personal growth, positive relations with others, life goals, and self-acceptance. In addition, a clear improvement was seen in quality of sleep, which returned to normal. Furthermore, with regard to doubts over whether to undergo surgical procedures such as mastectomy and oophorectomy, a clear change of attitude was found among the participants, with some from a position of ruling out any procedure to making an initial appointment with a physician.

The researchers believe these findings indicate that study and practice of the IBSR technique may improve the psychological well-being of women with BRCA1/BRCA2 gene mutations and constitute a basis for recommending this technique to women, along with oncogenetic consultation.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest ever study in the world, in the framework of such an experiment, as far as the number of participants is concerned,” Dr. Lev-Ari concludes. “We think that healthcare services, in Israel and worldwide, should evaluate the impact of coping with the genetic information and surgical procedures offered to asymptomatic women carriers on their emotional well-being and quality of life, and offer them interventions to promote their health on the individual level.”

"Healthcare services should evaluate the impact of coping with breast cancer on a woman's emotional well-being and quality of life and offer her interventions to promote her health on the individual level."