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Mindfulness-based stress reduction alters brain activity for breast cancer survivors with chronic neuropathic pain: preliminary evidence from resting-state fMRI



Breast cancer continues to be the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Canadian women, with as many as 25–60% of women suffering from chronic neuropathic pain (CNP) as a pervasive consequence of treatment. While pharmacological interventions have shown limited efficacy for the management of CNP to date, psychological interventions, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), may be a promising alterative for improving pain-related problems. The purpose of this study was to use brain imaging methods to investigate this potential.


Resting-state fMRI was used in female breast cancer survivors with CNP before and after an 8-week MBSR course (n = 13) and compared with a waitlist control group (n = 10).


Focusing on the default mode network, the most significant results show greater posterior cingulate connectivity with medial prefrontal regions post-MBSR intervention. Moreover, this change in connectivity correlated with reduced pain severity for the MBSR group.


These results provide empirical evidence of a change in the brain following MBSR intervention associated with changes in the subjective experience of pain.

Implications for Cancer Survivors

This study gives hope for a non-invasive method of easing the struggle of CNP in women following breast cancer treatment.

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Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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The authors wish to thank the MRI technologists from the Ottawa Hospital for their assistance with data collection. We also thank the participants, MBSR group leaders, and the research staff involved in the primary study.


This work was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

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Authors and Affiliations



AS: conceptualization, supervision, resources, investigation, funding acquisition, writing, data curation, formal analysis, methodology, visualization, design. AL: writing—original draft. ZF: formal analysis, resources, visualization, writing—review and editing. TH: investigation, writing—review and editing. OM: investigation. MS: writing—review and editing. AF: writing—review and editing. PP: conceptualization, funding acquisition, writing—review and editing, supervision.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to A. M. Smith.

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All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committees and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Smith, A.M., Leeming, A., Fang, Z. et al. Mindfulness-based stress reduction alters brain activity for breast cancer survivors with chronic neuropathic pain: preliminary evidence from resting-state fMRI. J Cancer Surviv 15, 518–525 (2021).

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