Crying therapy for breast cancer survivors

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Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women around the world, with an incidence rate of 24.2%. At the same time, it is the type of cancer with the highest level of survival (90%).

Various medical procedures, such as surgery, chemotherapy, antihormone therapy, and radiotherapy, make contributions to the increase of the number of survivors. On the other hand, despite their therapeutic effects, such treatments lead to stress, while the increasing blood pressure (BP) of the patients causes them to experience various symptoms of stress, such as anxiety, low mood, and immunosuppression. As these reactions may damage the normal course of the treatment, it is important to determine effective measures to alleviate the stress.

The stress experienced by cancer patients may exacerbate the symptoms, and unmanaged distress may have adverse effects on their quality of live (QOL). The adverse effects of the breast cancer treatment also include the symptoms of mood disorder, such as anxiety, depression, anger, exhaustion, and loss of energy. Most of the time, these symptoms continue after the end of the treatment and they may keep deteriorating the quality of life. Therefore, in order to improve the breast cancer patients’ quality of live, it is of importance that interventions both focus on physical health and reduce the adverse psychological symptoms.

How Does Stress Affect Immunity?

Stress, which is a physiological symptom experienced by breast cancer survivors, has negative effects on health through neural and endocrinological aspects. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is secreted by adrenal cortex. It affects the immunity responses by suppressing the metabolism and       cytotoxicity through T-lymphocytes and natural killer cells; therefore, high levels of stress are associated with increasing levels of cortisol. When people go through chronic stress, the immune system is suppressed, leading to reduced production of immunoglobulin. Specifically, immunoglobulin G (IgG) is responsible for immunity against various pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and toxins, and it plays a significant part in secondary immune responses. IgG is a significant biomarker for estimating the course of the disease in breast cancer patients experiencing chronic stress, as well as for monitoring the responses to treatment. When breast cancer survivors experience long-term stress, the production of immunoglobulin is reduced and the antibody responses are limited, which may adversely affect the rates of survival and healing. Hence, it is required to implement interventions in order to reduce stress, which would in turn increase the production of immunoglobulin.

Crying Therapy

It has been recently reported that crying therapy is effective in terms of reducing stress and improving the functioning of the immune system. In addition to other therapeutic interventions, crying is utilized in order to alleviate physical and emotional stress. Crying specifically makes it easier to express oneself, forgive oneself and others, get rid of the things that prevent the person, and be thankful for inner peace and small things in life. Previous studies found out that crying stimulates the sympathetic nervous system in order to increase the blood flow, respiratory rate, and use of oxygen; that it increases the activity of the immune system, and that it reduces stress and pain by increasing the secretion of neurotransmitters like endorphin, enkephalin and serotonin. Additionally, when used by the patient and family members for stress management, crying induces catharsis and emotional healing, improves the mood by stimulating the secretion of endorphin, alleviates pain, and creates positive effects on emotional well-being.

Previous studies reported that crying helps individuals physically and emotionally adapt to stressful situations, that it strengthens therapeutic relations, and that it improves the treatment process. Currently, in Holland, crying therapy is being used by psychologists for patients suffering from terminal cancer, diseases causing severe pain, and mental health problems.

A piece of research was devised to test the emotional and physiological effects of crying therapy on breast cancer survivors. In the study carried out with 27 participants consisting of breast cancer survivors, a three-phased crying therapy was administered on patients by experts. The pre-treatment and post treatment emotional (distress, burnout, mood) and physical (level of cortisol, serum IgG/Immune system activity, blood pressure) states of the patients were measured.

Effects of Crying Therapy

The results offered evidences that supported the clinical implementation of crying therapy for breast cancer survivors. Post-intervention levels of distress showed significant reductions compared to the pre-intervention ones, while the mood of the patients (levels of depression, anger and anxiety) reduced dramatically after the program. The levels of burnout reduced slightly after the crying therapy program, though not dramatically.

In this study, there was no significant reduction in the levels of cortisol caused by the crying therapy, due to the fact that the pre-intervention levels of cortisol of the patients were within the normal range. Upon the comparison of the analysis of IgG, the second physiological variable, to the pre-intervention one, it was revealed that there were significant increments in the immune system activity in the mid-intervention and post-intervention tests. In conclusion, following the analysis of the physiological effects of the crying treatment on BP, it was found that it significantly increased in the mid-intervention test compared to the pre-intervention test, which was followed by a reduction in the post-treatment test.

These outcomes support the result that the secretion of the hormones, which cause stress by means of tears, is effective in reducing emotional stress. It was confirmed that crying therapy in breast cancer survivor women is effective in improving the levels of stress, mood, as well as the immune system activity.

– Byun, H. S., Hwang, H., & Kim, G. D. (2020). Crying therapy intervention for breast cancer survivors: development and effects. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(13), 4911.