Does Practicing a Relaxation Technique Improve Cancer Survival?

By Rob Rutledge November 21, 2018

“Anyone with a cancer diagnosis should decrease their stress levels so as to decrease the inflammation in their body.”


Cancer cells arise when the normal cells accumulate enough damage in their chromosomes to begin to grow in an uncontrolled way. Slow growing cancers turn into faster-growing cancers in the same way. I believe people who have a cancer diagnosis can improve their chances of being alive and well many years later by decreasing the ongoing damage to cancer cells (which may or may not be left in the body after potentially curative treatment).

In addition to a poor diet (eg. red meat), the damage to the cancer cells may be caused by ongoing inflammation of the tissues. We know that when we’re under stress we release chemicals into the bloodstream that cause inflammation and literally eat away at the end of our chromosomes. This is the type of damage we can help prevent through our lifestyle habits.

Does reducing your stress levels improve your chance of cure/longevity?

Scientists don’t know for certain the effect of stress on survival but I was intrigued recently by a study looking at heart rate variability (HRV) in people diagnosed with multiple types of cancer. HRV is a scientific way to measure the amount of stress a person is experiencing at that moment. In the study, those with the highest stress levels were least likely to be alive years later (matching stage for a stage with those who were more relaxed). My conclusion is anyone with a cancer diagnosis should decrease their stress levels so as to decrease the inflammation in their body. (Note that the outer circumstances of your life do not need to change for you to be in a calmer clearer-thinking state of mind).

Relaxation done right!

Practicing a relaxation technique is a skill that resets the overall stress level in your body (what I call your Stress-o-meter). But unless you actually get your body to relax during the practice periods you won’t get the benefits. So I was excited to recently learn about heart rate variability monitors – little devices strapped to your wrist, earlobe or chest which provide ongoing biofeedback as you practice relaxation. The scientific data is very strong that using an HRV monitor improves your health and happiness levels in multiple ways. And they’re now cheap enough (eg. $70) for most people to buy and use at home each day.

The Take Away!

I encourage anyone with a cancer diagnosis to practice relaxation like a meditation technique – even 10 minutes per day seems to make a huge difference in the quality of life (improved mood, ability to think more clearly, get a better night’s sleep, more energy etc). I also believe that one day, science will prove that meditation/ relaxation will improve cancer survival rates – and the medical system will prescribe a home-based biofeedback system like an HRV monitor. In the meantime, explore different relaxation techniques (meditation, guided visualization, yoga, Qi Gong etc) and find and practice the one that makes you feel better.


Dr. Rob Rutledge

Oncologist, Nova Scotia Cancer Centre

Associate Professor, Dalhousie University

CEO / Chair of


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *