Preliminary efficacy of a lovingkindness meditation intervention for patients undergoing biopsy and breast cancer surgery: A randomized controlled pilot study

  • Anava A. WrenEmail author
  • Rebecca A. Shelby
  • Mary Scott Soo
  • Zenzi Huysmans
  • Jennifer A. Jarosz
  • Francis J. Keefe
Original Article



Despite more women undergoing treatment for breast cancer and increased survival rates, many women suffer from anxiety and physical symptoms (e.g., pain, fatigue) surrounding diagnosis and surgery. Research investigating the efficacy of psychosocial interventions for breast cancer patients during this period is limited. This randomized controlled pilot study examined the effect of a brief lovingkindness meditation intervention on these key outcomes.


Participants were 60 women who underwent core needle breast biopsy, received an abnormal biopsy result, and underwent breast surgery (White = 73.6%; African American = 22.6%; Asian American = 3.8%; Age M = 56). Participants were randomly assigned to one of three treatment conditions at breast biopsy: (1) lovingkindness meditation, (2) music, and (3) usual care. Assessments of anxiety, pain, fatigue, physiologic reactivity, and self-compassion occurred prior to patients’ biopsy, following biopsy, 1 week after receipt of biopsy results, and 1 week following breast surgery.


Multilevel modeling analyses demonstrated that lovingkindness meditation significantly improved pain (p = 0.02), self-compassion (p = 0.004), and heart rate (p = 0.02) over time compared to control conditions. There was a trend for anxiety (p = 0.05). Music significantly improved pain (p = 0.04) compared to usual care.


These findings provide preliminary evidence for the feasibility and efficacy of a lovingkindness meditation intervention for breast cancer patients during the diagnostic and surgical period. Improving psychological and physical well-being during this time frame has the potential to improve longer-term health outcomes during adjuvant treatment and survivorship. Interventions that cultivate positive adjustment during the diagnostic and surgical period of breast cancer are an important area of future research.


Cancer Breast cancer Biopsy Breast cancer surgery Lovingkindness meditation Psychosocial intervention 



The authors wish to thank Mary Brantley, MA, LMFT, and Dee Campbell, MSEE for their assistance with this research.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anava A. Wren
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Rebecca A. Shelby
    • 1
  • Mary Scott Soo
    • 3
  • Zenzi Huysmans
    • 1
    • 4
  • Jennifer A. Jarosz
    • 3
    • 5
  • Francis J. Keefe
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesDuke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Department of PediatricsStanford University Medical CenterStanfordUSA
  3. 3.Department of RadiologyDuke University Medical CenterDurhamUSA
  4. 4.Department of Sport and Exercise PsychologyWest Virginia UniversityMorgantownUSA
  5. 5.Greensboro RadiologyGreensboroUSA

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