Practising Yoga during Breast Cancer Treatments Helps Improve Quality of Life

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By Roshni Mahesh | March 5, 2014 4:00 PM EST

The art of yoga can help improve the life of breast cancer patients, latest research shows.

Several studies in the past have suggested yoga and meditation as an effective remedy for managing fatigue and inflammation associated with breast cancer treatments.  According to the National Cancer Institute in U.S., successful management of psychological stress during cancer treatment is equally essential to cope with depression, anxiety and reduce the cancer symptoms. Apart from this, there do exist ample evidence to show that exposure to psychological stress promoted tumour growth and increased risk of spreading it to other parts of the body.

Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit
The art of yoga can help improve life of breast cancer patients, latest research shows. (Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit/Flickr)

In the new study, patients who practised yoga during their treatment showed better ability to engage in daily activities. The meditation and relaxing techniques also helped improve their general health and lower levels of stress hormone cortisol.  

"Combining mind and body practices that are part of yoga clearly have tremendous potential to help patients manage the psychosocial and physical difficulties associated with treatment and life after cancer, beyond the benefits of simple stretching," Dr Lorenzo Cohen, professor and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson, said in a news release.

The study included 191 women undergoing radiation therapy.  The women received three sessions of either yoga or simple stretching exercises a week for one and a half month of the radiation treatment. Some of these patients were excluded from any of these interventions.  

The women reported changes in the quality of life after they enrolled in these intervention programmes. Researchers tested saliva samples from the women and performed electrocardiogram tests before, during and after the treatment.

Interestingly, women in the yoga group showed lowered cortisol levels throughout the day than the other two groups. Both yoga and stretching group experienced reduction in fatigue. Physical functioning and general health was far better among the yoga group than the other two.

Practicing yoga regularly after completing the cancer treatment can be of great support to cancer patients, the researchers said.

"The transition from active therapy back to everyday life can be very stressful as patients no longer receive the same level of medical care and attention. Teaching patients a mind-body technique like yoga as a coping skill can make the transition less difficult," Cohen explained.

These findings, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, re-confirm another study published in the same journal early this year.  The trial conducted by Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues from the Ohio State University in the US found that practising yoga regularly for a period of six months was enough to reduce inflammation by 20 percent and fatigue by 57 percent.  

Fatigue and inflammation are some common problems associated with breast cancer treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, radiation treatment and hormonal therapy. Previous research into the issue has suggested acupuncture as an effective method to find relief from the physical and mental fatigue, anxiety and depression associated with breast cancer treatments.

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(Photo: Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit / )
The art of yoga can help improve life of breast cancer patients, latest research shows. (Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit/Flickr)
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