App-Based Meditation Can Alleviate Mental Health Difficulties in Patients With MPNs

Using mindfulness meditation apps may provide an effective way to self-manage and reduce depression and anxiety in patients with myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPNs).

Patients with myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPNs) are often affected by depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance, which can greatly impact these patients’ lives. However, using mindfulness meditation apps may provide an effective way to self-manage and reduce depression and anxiety in patients with MPNs, according to research published in Integrative Cancer Therapies.

The researchers specifically studied the use of the smartphone meditation app Calm on depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbance in patients with MPNs based on baseline levels of Global Mental Health (GMH). MPNs are blood cancers, and the 3 main types of MPNs are polycythemia vera, essential thrombocythemia, and myelofibrosis.

Even though sleep disturbance and mental health difficulties are prevalent in patients with cancer, some patients can be reluctant to accept psychiatric medications. Among those patients who use psychiatric medications, there is the risk for dependency when used in the long term.

“To address the unmet need for managing sleep disturbance and mental health difficulties in MPN patients, alternative interventions are warranted,” the authors wrote. “Research is turning to nonpharmacologic approaches to treat sleep disturbance and mental health difficulties in MPN patients. Nonpharmacologic approaches, unlike medications, yield fewer side effects and have no concerns for dependence.”

Mindfulness meditation has not only been shown to have positive effects on depression and anxiety, but it can be delivered through a mobile application, which alleviates the need for patients to travel for additional appointments.

The study included 80 patients from a larger study testing the feasibility and preliminary effects of 2 mindfulness-based apps. The patients either used Calm (n = 29; 36%) or received the control intervention (n = 51; 64%). The patients who used Calm were asked to use the app for 10 minutes every day for 4 weeks, while the patients in the control group received a 7-page educational handout with information about evidence-based MPN fatigue management.

Patients with lower GMH baseline scores, associated with higher levels of depression, showed larger reductions in depression over time compared with patients with higher GMH scores. A similar effect was seen in patients with anxiety: those with higher baseline levels of anxiety reported larger reductions in anxiety. Anxiety scores also showed that regardless of baseline GMH, patients using the Calm app had larger reductions in anxiety compared with patients in the control intervention group.

Poor baseline GMH was associated with increases in sleep disturbance. This was observed across all participants regardless of whether they were in the Calm group or the control intervention.

“Future research should include large-scale efficacy trials to provide a better understanding of whether Calm and other meditation apps can improve mental health in cancer patients, the mechanisms that drive those effects, and the populations that most benefit from app-based meditation interventions,” the authors concluded.


Puzia ME, Huberty J, Eckert R, Larkey L, Mesa R. Associations between global mental health and response to an app-based meditation intervention in myeloproliferative neoplasm patients. Integr Cancer Ther. Published online June 20, 2020. doi:10.1177/1534735420927780