Yoga Improves Quality of Life for Breast Cancer Patients

Medical News Today

March 4, 2014

By Honor Whiteman

Radiation therapy is one of the main treatments for cancer, and one of the most common side effects of the treatment is fatigue. But new research from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center suggests that for breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, yoga may combat this side effect by regulating stress hormones, improving quality of life beyond treatment.

The research team, led by Prof. Lorenzo Cohen, recently published the study findings in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Yoga Improves Quality of Life for Breast Cancer Patients

Yoga is an ancient exercise that originated in India around 5,000 years ago. The activity combines physical postures, breathing exercises, relaxation techniques and meditation, and it has been associated with other health benefits.

Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that yoga can help lower blood pressure, while a 2012 study suggested that the exercise may help prevent adolescent mental problems.

To assess whether yoga could provide health benefits for breast cancer patients, the researchers analyzed 191 women with stages 0-3 of the disease.

Researchers say yoga could combat fatigue for breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy and improve overall quality of life during and after treatment.

All women were randomized into three groups: yoga, simple stretching or no instruction in yoga or stretching.

The women in the yoga or simple stretching groups were required to attend 1-hour classes for 3 days a week during the course of their 6-week radiation treatment. All sessions were tailored to breast cancer patients.

During the study period, the women were asked to report on their quality of life, including levels of fatigue and depression, sleep quality and how they were able to function on a daily basis.

The researchers conduced electrocardiogram (ECG) tests and took saliva samples from the women at the baseline of the study, the end of their radiation therapy and at 1, 3 and 6 months after treatment. This was to measure the participants' levels of cortisol - known as the "stress hormone."

Yoga reduced women's cortisol levels and fatigue

Results of the study revealed that the women who took part in the yoga sessions showed the sharpest decline in cortisol levels of all the groups, suggesting that yoga was able to regulate the stress hormone.

The investigators say this finding is important because increased stress hormone levels during the day - known as blunted circadian cortisol rhythm - have been associated with worse breast cancer outcomes.

Furthermore, the researchers found that women in the yoga group reported a reduction in fatigue, whereas the women in the other two groups did not. The women in the yoga group also reported better general health and functioning at 1, 3 and 6 months after radiation treatment.

These women also reported being able to find meaning in their experience of illness, while women in the other two groups did not.

"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."

Additionally, he says research has shown that adopting a yoga practice after cancer treatment can help breast cancer patients cope with their experience.

"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," explains Prof. Cohen. "Teaching patients a mind-body technique like yoga as a coping skill can make the transition less difficult."

The research team is now in the process of a phase III trial of women with breast cancer, with the aim of understanding how yoga can improve physical function, biological outcomes and quality of life after radiation therapy.

This is not the first study to find a link between yoga and health benefits for breast cancer patients. Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that for breast cancer survivors, yoga can reduce symptoms of fatigue and inflammation.

Yoga May Help Breast Cancer Patients

WebMD

by Kathleen Doherty

TUESDAY, March 4, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Women with breast cancer who practiced yoga had lower levels of stress hormones and reported less fatigue and better quality of life, new research shows.

"Yoga is having an impact on subjective well-being, as well as better regulation of cortisol, a stress hormone," said study co-author Lorenzo Cohen, director of the integrative medicine program at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston. "Better regulation of stress hormones has been linked with better survival and longer survival."

The study is published in the March 3 online edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Other research has found yoga helpful for cancer patients, Cohen said, but some of those studies have looked at small numbers of patients and others have not compared the yoga group to a "control" group to measure results.

Yoga for Breast Cancer Patients - Kula for Karma

For the new study, Cohen assigned more than 160 women with breast cancer who were undergoing radiation therapy to do either yoga or stretching up to three times a week for an hour each session. Those two groups were compared to a control group that received no instruction in either yoga or stretching.

The women reported on their quality of life, including how fatigued or depressed they felt, and described their daily functioning. They gave saliva samples at the study's start, the end of treatment, and at one, three and six months after treatment, so cortisol could be measured.

Women in the yoga group had the greatest reduction in cortisol levels across the day, which reflected the ability of yoga to help regulate stress hormones, the study authors noted.

After finishing radiation treatment, which is linked with fatigue, only the yoga and stretching groups reported feeling less tired, the findings showed. The yoga group had more benefits in physical functioning than the other two groups.

No differences were found between the groups for mental health and sleep quality. That may have been because all the women were doing fairly well on those measures at the study's start, Cohen said.

Previous studies have linked exercise with better well-being and less fatigue among cancer patients, said Dr. Joanne Mortimer, director of women's cancer programs and co-director of the breast cancer program at City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif.

Recommending exercise to a cancer patient who is already tired may sound counterintuitive, Mortimer said, but research suggests that's not so.

"This study supports that the more you do, the better off you are," Mortimer explained.

Cohen put it this way: "I think it's important for breast cancer patients to engage in some sort of activity to buffer [dealing with the disease]."

Yoga, he said, provides an important mind-body approach to help patients get physical activity, relax and calm their mind.

While yoga class offerings are widespread, Cohen pointed out that "it's important to find the right kind of yoga teacher. It's about doing a gentler form of yoga."

He suggested women with breast cancer ask their doctor first if they can participate in yoga, then find a yoga instructor with experience leading a class that includes cancer patients.

How Yoga Can Help Women with Breast Cancer

ABC News, May 4, 2014

By Danielle Krol, M.D. (@dailydosemd)

Yoga for Breast Cancer - Kula for Karma

Yoga can help ease pain, fatigue and depression among women battling breast cancer, a new study found. It might even help them survive.

The study of 191 breast cancer patients linked yoga to improvements in self-reported quality of life, including measures of mood, pain and fatigue. Practicing yoga also appeared to help regulate the stress hormone cortisol, which is tied to poor survival among breast cancer patients.

“The benefits of yoga are above and beyond stretching,” said Lorenzo Cohen, a professor of oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and lead author of the study published Monday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. “These findings may improve outcomes in cancer survivors.”

To conduct the study, Cohen and his team randomly assigned 191 women with breast cancer who were undergoing radiation therapy into one of three groups. One group did yoga, another did simple stretching exercises, and a third group did neither. The participants in the yoga and stretching groups attended sessions for one hour, three days a week throughout the six weeks of their radiation therapy.

Throughout the study, Cohen’s team asked patients a series of questions assessing their quality of life, fatigue level and sleep quality, and tested their cortisol levels. By comparing the groups, they found yoga significantly reduced fatigue, raised physical function and health perception scores and reduced cortisol levels.

Dr. Barrie Cassileth, chief of the integrative medicine service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said the new findings lend additional weight to the science behind mind-body approaches to cancer treatment.

“Yoga is a very important intervention, and this was a high quality investigation,” said Cassileth, who was not involved with the study. “This study looked beyond the physical benefits of yoga by looking at the physiologic measure of stress: cortisol.”

The new research is part of an ongoing effort by researchers at M.D. Anderson to scientifically corroborate mind-body interventions in cancer care. The study was done in collaboration with Swami Vivekananda Anusandhana Samsthana, India’s largest yoga research institution.

Breast Cancer is the most common cancer among women, with an estimated 232,000 new cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Doctor’s Take

Integrative medicine, a philosophy that explores new ways to treat the mind, body and spirit, is increasingly popular among physicians. Now research is starting to provide concrete evidence on the benefits of yoga, especially in the cancer setting.

A practice that began over 5,000 years ago, yoga has only recently begun to be integrated into medical therapy at cancer centers across the country. And while its original focus may have been wellness and emotional health, studies like this, which look at physical measures like cortisol levels, suggest that yoga’s effects may extend beyond what many doctors once believed.

The study adds to mounting evidence that yoga can be used to control physical functions, including blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, metabolism and body temperature. And for women undergoing treatment for breast cancer, it might be one more reason to look to this ancient practice for improved quality of life and possibly a better chance of beating their disease

How the Mind-Body Aspects of Yoga Can Help Breast Cancer Patients

Yoga for Breast Cancer - Kula for Karma

The mind-body aspects of yoga specifically could carry benefits for women undergoing breast cancer treatment, according to a small new study.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, shows that women undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer who were enrolled in a yoga intervention (that included meditation, relaxation and breathing techniques) experienced improved stress hormone regulation, decreased fatigue and improved general health.

"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," study researcher Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, said in a statement.

The study included 191 women with breast cancer of varying stages, who were randomly assigned to one of three groups as they underwent their radiation treatment for six weeks. One group did simple stretching, the second group did yoga, and the third group did no yoga or stretching. The yoga and stretching groups did their assigned activity for one hour, three times a week.

The participants self-reported their fatigue and depression levels throughout the intervention, and researchers also collected saliva samples and administered echocardiogram tests at the beginning of the study, at the end of the radiation treatment, and then one, three and six months after the radiation treatment had ended.

They found that overall, the participants who were assigned to the yoga group experienced the greatest gains in all measurements of health. Specifically, the yoga group had the greatest decreases in cortisol levels throughout the day. And after radiation treatment, the yoga and stretching groups experienced decreases in fatigue, compared with the control group. Months after the radiation treatment, the yoga group self-reported higher general health, and were also more likely than the other two groups to say that they found some kind of meaning of life from their cancer experience.

Previous research has indicated that yoga could decrease inflammation and fatigue among breast cancer survivors. One study showing this effect, published in the same journal as the new study, posited that the beneficial effects could come from yoga's ability to improve sleep.