Can yoga really help cancer patients?
Yoga has been around as an exercise and healing modality since before the 5th and 6th Centuries BC. It was generally ignored by the western medical professions until about 1950 when an article appeared in the Lancet that described the astonishing endurance of a yogi. Enter the 1960’s and along with the flower power, peace and love, yoga became all the rage. The medical profession joined in, they were fascinated by how yoga breathing changed different metabolic parameters in the body. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the first papers that looked at the effects of Yoga as a supportive treatment to cancer therapies started to appear.
Today patients are more likely than not to look to integrate supportive treatments and therapies into their personal cancer fighting plan. Even better, many health professionals in oncology centres are providing information on supportive treatments. There is a long way to go before it becomes an integral part of the health system, but huge progress has been made.
But does it really help?
Where’s the evidence?
It is not an easy thing to assess. Cancer patients’ individual treatments and their unique ways of dealing with their illness are so varied that it is almost impossible to set up studies and trials that satisfy the statisticians. Here we’ve pulled out some information on the most recent studies. These include some great positive new evidence on how Yoga can help children and adolescents who are recovering from cancer.
Yoga and Breast Cancer
Two recent studies assessed the effect of Yoga on the quality of life of breast cancer survivors.
In the first study, patients were given either aerobic exercise or aerobic exercise with an hour of yoga every day for six weeks. At the end of the study they were assessed for functional capacity peripheral muscle strength, fatigue and quality of life. Both groups showed improvements in functional capacity, peripheral muscle strength and quality of life but the yoga group also showed a clear improvement in their levels of fatigue.
The second study investigated the efficacy of Lyengar yoga in reducing the post-treatment fatigue in breast cancer survivors. Patients who had undergone breast cancer treatment at least six months before the study and who suffered from severe fatigue, were enrolled and divided into two groups. The control group were given 12 weeks of health education and the treatment group participated in 12 weeks of Lyengar yoga. Results showed that fatigue levels dropped significantly in the yoga group compared to the control group and they also had improved vitality. Both groups had less stress and less depressive symptoms.
Yoga and Lung Cancer
An interesting study published in Nursing Oncology investigated the feasibility of yoga for survivors of non-small cell lung cancer. The study was a community run study and the patients were monitored for the effects on sleep, mood, levels of the stress hormone cortisol and Quality of Life. Ease of breathing was monitored before, during and after each class. Measurements were taken for a 3 week period before the start of the yoga therapy, during the 8 weeks of yoga and then three weeks after the study and again at three and six months after the study.
Participants with varying stages of disease and length of survivorship were able to perform yoga without respiratory distress. Class attendance exceeded 95%, and all practiced at home. Mood, sleep efficiency, and QOL significantly improved; salivary cortisol levels decreased over time. Results showed that Yoga was possible for all patients irrespective of the stage of illness and that it did not compromise their respiratory ability. Patients also showed improvements in mood, sleep and cortisol levels. Attendance was very high at 95% and there was a large improvement in Quality of Life.
Latest new evidence – Yoga and childhood cancer.
Published this month in the Journal of Paediatric Oncological Nursing, a new study shows that Yoga can reduce post treatment symptoms in child cancer survivors. Children and adolescents often suffer from symptoms of extreme fatigue, anxiety, along with sleep and balance problems after cancer treatment. The study, carried out at the University of Minnesota Hospital investigated the effects of a Hatha yoga program for children and adolescent cancer survivors. The children aged between 10 and 17 years followed a 6 week program of yoga classes and were assessed for levels of fatigue, anxiety, sleep and balance for six weeks before the classes then at the end of the study. None of the scores for anxiety, fatigue, sleep, and balance changed in the period before the classes. At the end of the six weeks of classes, anxiety was much lower in the children and in adolescents there was a tendency for anxiety to decrease. The fatigue and balance scores were below the normal levels for healthy children and adolescents while the sleep and anxiety scores were similar to those in healthy children.
Bower et al. Yoga for persistent fatigue in breast cancer survivors: a randomized controlled trial. Cancer Aug 2012.
Fouladbakhsh et al. A pilot study of the feasibility and outcomes of yoga for lung cancer survivors. Oncol Nurs Forum Mar 2014.
Vardar Yagli et al. DoYoga and Aerobic Exercise Training Have Impact on Functional Capacity, Fatigue, Peripheral Muscle Strength, and Quality of Life in Breast Cancer Survivors? Integr Cancer Ther Jan 2015.
Archer et al. “I’m 100% for it! I’m a convert!”: Women’s experiences of a yoga programme during treatment for gynaecological cancer; an interpretative phenomenological analysis. Complement Ther Med. Feb 2015.
Hooke et al. Yoga for Children and Adolescents After Completing Cancer Treatment. J Pediatr Oncol Nurs. Feb 2015.