Boost Your Mind: Mindfulness voor jongeren tijdens en na hun kankerbehandeling

Professional info

Location: Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL), Belgium
Collaboration: Katleen Van der Gucht (coordinator), Inge De Leeuw (trainer), Edel Maex & Jen Bertels (supervision)


The origin of mindfulness lies with Buddhism. During the late 70s Jon Kabat-Zinn has given a scientific status to mindfulness in the U.S. when he applied it to people with mainly physical and stress-related complaints. The program, in which he incorporated mindfulness, was called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). John Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as follows: "Pay attention, be very focused in the here and now, and not judgmental." You're with your full attention in the here and now, you're completely open to your experiences without judging whether that is a good or bad thing to do. During the 90s the Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed by Teasdale, Segal, and Williams. This program was designed to avoid relapse of depression in people who had already suffered from several depressions in the past.

The philosophy of mindfulness comes down to the fact that worrying about the past and the future, is making us much more unhappy than we should be. Through a mindfulness training you learn to adopt a different attitude towards your thoughts and feelings. You will learn skills to notice initial negative feelings and thoughts in time, and to observe without engaging fully, as those are mere thoughts that come and go. The result is that negative thoughts disappear much faster and that you will worry less.


Mindfulness for young adults

The positive effects of mindfulness training in adults have been demonstrated repeatedly, both in healthy subjects and in clinical groups, for example in adult cancer patients . Following a mindfulness training helps to improve quality of life, reduce stress, anxiety and depressing feelings. Yet, are these effects equally observed in young adults?

In recent years, more research  has been carried out on the effects of such training for young adults and the results are promising. A study in more than 400 adolescents in Flemish schools reveals that young adults who had followed the mindfulness training scored better on a psychological level, and that these improvements were visible to even 6 months after the end of the training sessions. Furthermore, mindfulness was not only helping to prevent mental health problems but also had a curative effect in reducing psychological problems.


Why did we choose this project?

Many adolescent and young adult cancer (AYAC) survivors experience emotional distress, which often tends to become worse years after cancer treatment has ended. Approximately one-third experience clinical levels, most commonly in the forms of depression, anxiety, or stress. However, the psychosocial needs of these patients remain largely unmet. Research with AYAC survivors focusing on symptom management after treatment has ended, is scarce, and more age-appropriate interventions are needed.

The aim of the project

The aim of our study was to examine the feasibility and potential efficacy of MBI for AYAC survivors and to understand the processes underlying the potential benefits. It was hypothesized that MBI would
(1) Improve quality of life and reduce emotional distress (symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress);
(2) Reduce underlying cognitive vulnerability factors;
(3) Improve mindfulness skills.


How did we approach the problem?

Participants were AYAC survivors, aged 14-24, who had completed acute medical treatment. A two-baseline, post and follow-up within-subjects design was used. Each participant completed two baseline assessments, followed by an 8-week mindfulness-based intervention. The primary outcome variables were emotional distress and quality of life. Secondary outcomes were cognitive vulnerability factors and mindfulness skills.


What did we find?

At three months follow-up MBI was associated with
1) A large and significant reduction in emotional distress and improvement in quality of life, 2) A large and significant reduction in negative attitudes toward self (i.e. a cognitive vulnerability factor)
3) A large and significant improvement in mindfulness skills. The change in mindfulness skills mediated the change in emotional distress. 

Scientific publication 'Van der Gucht, K.; et al. A Mindfulness-Based Intervention for Adolescents and Young Adults After Cancer Treatment: Effects on Quality of Life, Emotional Distress, and Cognitive Vulnerability. Journal of Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology. 2016 Dec 21. (abstract only)


Based on the project results, our message to patients

MBI is a promising approach to treat emotional distress and to improve quality of life in AYAC survivors. Further research using randomized controlled trials is needed to generalize these findings.