What Is Bright Light Therapy for Cancer Patients?

by Dr. Srishti Tayal

What is Bright Light Therapy for Cancer Survivors?

Bright Light

Cancer – a word that evokes emotions of fear, anxiety, and tension not just in the mind of the patient but of all the others around him as well. What is even more disturbing is that the life-threatening disease engulfs anyone beyond the barriers of age, gender, or even state of health. The causes remain vitally unknown despite years of research on the subject by top universities the world over and the outcomes can be severe, sometimes fatal.

The cancer-treatment journey, which essentially involves being subjected to chemotherapy, can be quite difficult, almost indescribable, for its survivors. The term ‘survivor’ refers to a person who has successfully managed to fight the disease, after enduring all the hard times it entails, and comes through hale and hearty in the end. But sometimes the story doesn’t end there.

Chemo has fallouts too

There can be numerous fallouts of cancer treatment which its survivors may start experiencing later on. One of the most common knock-on effects is fatigue and poor sleep at night. After all, strenuous chemo and the exceedingly high harmful radiations that the patient is subjected to during the course of treatment can leave him at lack of good rest and proper sleep. As such, cancer survivors may report complaints of frequent sleep disturbances, sometimes even sleep disorders such as insomnia and chronic fatigue.

What can be done?

To help cancer survivors recover better and faster, doctors suggest a number of treatments, the most popular and effective among them being the bright light therapy.

Second Opinion from a Doctor:

When it comes to dealing with a disease as severe as cancer one must always go for the second opinion. Taking a second opinion will always be beneficial and will make the patient feel more confident to deal with the disease and what treatment to go for and know about its pros and cons in detail. It also makes the patients more aware and assured about the treatments and therapies they are receiving which ultimately leads to speedy recoveries and better prognosis.

What is bright light therapy?

Bright light therapy is an effective line of treatment involving exposure to artificial light. The patient is required to sit before a device known as a light therapy box for at least 30 minutes in the morning every day. To save time, patients may continue to work while sitting close to the light therapy box. The box emanates bright light, something similar to natural sunlight.

Benefits of using bright light therapy

The therapy is a relatively low-cost intervention as compared to other lines of treatment prescribed for sleep disturbance in cancer survivors and can be easily disseminated as well via light therapy box. This has made the use of bright light therapy more popular among cancer survivors in the recent past.

However, in the absence of artificial bright light or light therapy boxes, doctors suggest patients go outside in the daytime and get natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes a day. Keeping your indoors bright during daytime can also help keep mood swings and depression at bay.
All of the above measures are based on the theory that light is the strongest regulator of problems related to sleep and fatigue. Exposing the body therefore to bright light (whether artificial or natural) can work wonders for patients treated with cancer. It significantly improves sleep patterns (frequency of sleep), sleep time (duration of uninterrupted sleep), sleep clock (sleeping and waking at the same time every day), and quality of sleep (calm and peaceful, uneventful sleep) in such patients.

Bright light therapy can also help bring down fatigue levels considerably, making the patient feel more active and energetic in the daytime, thereby inevitably leading them to good uninterrupted sleep in the night.

How does bright light therapy work for cancer survivors?

The strenuous chemotherapy performed on cancer patients can result in excessive fatigue and sometimes even lack of good sleep at night. This is where bright light therapy can help. The positive effects of the therapy have been proven in several clinical trials performed on cancer survivors.

These trials have shown how exposing fatigued patients, who have been treated for cancer, to bright light in a systematic manner can help improve sleep conditions in them. Let’s see how the therapy works in this regard.

The bright light emanating from the light therapy box is believed to produce an effect on certain chemicals in the brain, which is linked to sleep. As such, bright light therapy may also prove effective in the treatment of other sleep disorders such as insomnia. The therapy is also known by other names like phototherapy or light therapy.

Results of clinical trials

A number of trials have been conducted on fatigued cancer patients, wherein they were exposed to bright light therapy for at least 30 minutes every morning for 4 weeks. It was observed at the end of the study that means sleep efficiency (total % of the time the person is in bed while sleeping) significantly improved to clinically normal levels. Moreover, these changes continued to be seen even after three weeks of the therapy.

Doctors suggest that insomnia and other sleep disturbances in cancer survivors are reportedly higher and these symptoms may continue to be seen in these patients even several years after they have been treated for cancer. In the wake of this, bright light therapy comes as a boon for cancer survivors.

Bright light therapy - The road ahead

The discovery of bright light therapy, otherwise used for insomnia and sleep disorder patients, for use in cancer survivors has truly helped the latter recover faster and more efficiently from the side effects of cancer treatment. It has helped numerous survivors come back to and lead a normal, healthy life. While more advanced research on the subject is still awaited to assess the side effects of the therapy itself, if any, until that happens, cancer survivors can continue to enjoy the numerous benefits of bright light therapy “while they last”.

In addition, more research is required to find other such boons in medical science that can help cancer survivors fight its side effects in the long run. While having already endured chemo treatment for long, these people definitely need a break and deserve to lead a healthy and peaceful life. We hope the positive effects of bright light therapy continue to help millions of cancer survivors the world over and more such therapies come to the forefront to help many more millions.

Author Bio:
Dr. Srishti Tayal is a passionate medical researcher and has published five research papers in various medical journals and received an award for the best scientific paper. She has completed BDS & MDS with Gold Medal. She is also an avid medical writer. She regularly writes for healthclues.net and believes in bridging the information gap among the common population with regards to modern medicine.

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