Benefits of Yoga for Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Radiotherapy

Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer suffer from psychological issues such as the fear of death. The treatment given in the form of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy also produce various bodily side effects. Together, these diminish the quality of life of the cancer patient. A recent study at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center examined the use of yoga in improving the quality of life in women who were undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer. “Our results indicated that the yoga program was associated with statistically and clinically significant improvements in aspects of quality of life.”

Yoga is a traditional Indian science, which involves physical exercises (asanas) and slow breathing (pranayamas). Yoga not only helps to improve physical health but also improves the health of the mind as well. It is helpful in preventing diseases and has proved to be curative in various disease conditions. Many earlier studies have proved that yoga improves sleep, decreases nausea, and enhances immunity in patients who underwent chemotherapy. However, most of these studies were conducted on patients who had completed their treatment for cancer. The present study was performed on patients who were undergoing radiotherapy. In this study, researchers also wanted to evaluate the patients’ mindset to the treatment, i.e., whether yoga changed their outlook for life.

* This study included 61 women diagnosed with breast cancer who were scheduled to undergo radiotherapy. Demographic parameters, such as age, stage of disease, ethnicity, education and employment status were observed.
* The participants were divided into two groups. Those in the yoga group were asked to attend yoga classes of 60 minutes every week. This was continued until the end of six weeks of radiation therapy. They were also asked to practice yoga at home every day. For those participants who were in the control group, no exercises were advised.
* The physical health of the participants was assessed by measuring pain, sleep and fatigue. Mental health was assessed by using questionnaires, which collected data regarding depression, anxiety, and intrusive thoughts. At the end, the level of coping with the disease was assessed by using a benefit-finding scale. These measurements were done before the start of radiotherapy and then at intervals of one week, one month and three months after the commencement of radiotherapy.

* There were no significant differences between the groups as far as demographic parameters were concerned. Almost 80 percent of the participants in the yoga group continued to perform yoga in the first month.
* Significant improvement in both physical health and mental health parameters was noted in the first week in the participants from the yoga group. In fact, the scores were more than the baseline in the first week.
* After three months, the yoga group reported better levels of happiness and well-being on their questionnaires than the control group. Higher values indicated better coping with the disease.

Shortcomings/Next steps
The most important limitation of the present study is that the participants in the control group were absolutely inactive. Studies in which the participants of the control group are made active by some other means are necessary to evaluate the actual benefit of yoga. Further studies must be conducted to identify the particular exercises of yoga that would be most beneficial to patients with cancer. The underlying mechanisms through which yoga produces its effects should also be identified.

This study has shown convincingly that yoga improves the quality of life for women who undergo radiotherapy for breast cancer. These beneficial effects are not simply because of the physical exercise facet of yoga. This probably occurs because of the increase in internal awareness because of relaxation brought on by pranayamas. One interesting finding of the present study is the improvement in physical and mental health parameters from the baseline in the first week of radiotherapy. Future studies by conducting follow-ups of the patients for longer duration are necessary to identify the long-term benefits of yoga.

For More Information:
Yoga Improves Quality of Life in Women Undergoing Radiotherapy for Breast Cancer
Publicaton Journal: Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology, 2010
By Kavita Chandwani; Bob Thornton; University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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