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Structural Brain Changes After a Mindfulness-Based Intervention in Breast Cancer Survivors with Cognitive Complaints

A Correction to this article was published on 22 June 2023

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Cancer-related cognitive impairment (CRCI) is a common side effect of breast cancer treatment and has been linked to structural brain abnormalities. As previous research showed that mindfulness-based interventions (MBI) might alter brain structure, we hypothesized that MBI can induce structural brain recovery after chemotherapy in breast cancer survivors with cognitive complaints.


Female breast cancer survivors reporting cognitive complaints (n = 117) were randomly assigned to a mindfulness (n = 43), physical training (n = 36), or waitlist control condition (n = 38). Multimodal MRI was used to investigate differences between groups in gray matter volume changes using a voxel-based morphometry analysis, and white matter structure using a fixel-based whole-brain and tract-based analysis.


Ninety-five participants completed structural MRI scans before the intervention, immediately after, and 3 months post-intervention. Comparing MBI to the waitlist control group, results showed an increase in gray matter volume in the right primary motor cortex immediately after MBI compared to baseline. Tract-based analysis showed small regional differences within the corpus callosum between both intervention groups and the waitlist controls. No differences in the whole-brain white matter or between MBI and physical training could be identified.


This study showed that MBI may be associated with subtle short-term structural brain changes in a region involved in the control of voluntary movements and pain processing, which might indirectly impact cognitive functioning. However, no long-term effects were found, suggesting that longer interventions might be needed to widely affect brain structure and associated CRCI. Nonetheless, MBI might show promise as a non-invasive intervention in the context of CRCI.


The study was registered at (NCT03736460).

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Data Availability

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

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Compliments to Silvia Kovacs for the practical organization of the study and her help with the data collection. We also like to thank Anneleen Gebruers, Ineke Van Mulders and Inge De Leeuw for the training.


This work was supported by “Kom op tegen Kanker” (Stand up to Cancer, The Flemish Society) and Research Foundation Flanders (MM—FWO, grant no. 1S68621N). The computational resources and services used in this work were provided by the VSC (Flemish Supercomputer Center), funded by FWO and the Flemish Government—department EWI. The funding organizations provide financial support for research and do not review any research protocols.

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Authors and Affiliations



Michelle Melis: investigation, methodology, formal analysis, writing (original draft), writing (review and editing).

Jeroen Blommaert: methodology, formal analysis, writing (review and editing).

Ahmed Radwan: methodology, formal analysis, writing (review and editing).

Ann Smeets: conceptualization, methodology, writing (review and editing).

Katleen Van der Gucht: conceptualization, funding acquisition, methodology, writing (review and editing).

Sabine Deprez: conceptualization, funding acquisition, methodology, project administration, supervision, writing (review and editing).

Stefan Sunaert: conceptualization, methodology, formal analysis, supervision, writing (review and editing).

All the authors approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michelle Melis.

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Ethics Approval

The study was approved by the Ethics Committee Research UZ/KU Leuven (S59396) and conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki.

Informed Consent

Written informed consent was obtained from all participants prior to participation.

Conflict of Interest

KVDG is a co-founder and director of the managing committee of the Leuven Mindfulness Centre (LMC). The LMC receives payments for workshops and presentations related to mindfulness given by KVDG. All other authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Melis, M., Blommaert, J., Radwan, A. et al. Structural Brain Changes After a Mindfulness-Based Intervention in Breast Cancer Survivors with Cognitive Complaints. Mindfulness 14, 1606–1621 (2023).

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