Active Yoga Practice Improves Quality of Life for Breast Cancer Survivors
You’ve no doubt heard about the many studies that show the benefits of yoga, particularly how it lessens some of the side effects from cancer treatment such as fatigue. But before you think that yoga is just a bunch of stretching exercises, take another look. Researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center compared simple stretching with active yoga practice and found that the complete incorporation of mind-body techniques improved many levels of well-being among breast cancer survivors undergoing radiation therapy.
Yoga Improves Physical Functioning and Reduces Stress During and After Radiation Therapy
Lorenzo Cohen PhD, a professor and director of the Integrative Medicine Program, and colleagues studied 163 women with breast cancer (stage 0-3) with an average age of 52. The ladies were randomized into one of three groups. One group practiced yoga one hour a day, three days a week, throughout the six weeks of radiation. The second group participated in simple stretching exercises for the same amount of time. The third control group had no instruction in either yoga or stretching.
The yoga classes were specifically geared toward women with breast cancer and were conducted in collaboration with India’s largest yoga research institution, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana in Bangalore.
The participants rated their quality of life based on factors such as fatigue, daily functioning, benefit finding, depression and spirituality. Saliva samples were also collected and electrocardiogram tests were administered at baseline, at the end of their six week treatment, and at one, three and six months post treatment.
At the end of six weeks, women in both the yoga and stretching groups reported a reduction in fatigue, a common side effect of treatment. But during the post-treatment follow-ups, only women who practiced yoga reported greater benefits to physical functioning and general health. They were also more likely to perceive positive life changes from their cancer experience than either other group.
The women in the yoga group also showed a decline in cortisol across the day. Cortisol is a stress hormone and higher levels have been linked to worse outcomes in breast cancer.
“The combination of mind and body practices that are part of yoga clearly have tremendous potential to help patients manage the psychosocial and physical distress associated with treatment and life after cancer, beyond the benefits of simple stretching,” said Cohen.
Dr. Cohen will present his findings next month in an oral session at the 47th annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The team will next conduct a Phase III clinical trial in women with breast cancer to further determine the mechanisms of yoga that lead to such benefits as improvements in physical functioning and biological outcomes. They will also assess cost efficiency for hospital health care usage costs in general and examine work productivity of patients. The research will be funded through a grant from the National Cancer Institute.