Breast cancer patients and survivors have been practicing yoga as a form of complementary alternative medicine (CAM) for years. Recent research suggests that yoga can improve their lives both during and after treatment.
In April 2012, a study of 200 breast cancer survivors published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that yoga participants experienced significantly higher levels of vitality as soon as their cancer treatment ended than a control group. Three months later, blood samples showed that three proinflammatory cytokines (proteins in the blood that are markers of inflammation) were lower than the control group, too. And the more often the breast cancer survivors practiced yoga, the greater the effects on their vitality.
In March, another study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology followed 160 breast cancer patients who were undergoing radiation therapy. The women were randomly assigned to a yoga group, a stretching group, or a control group that received no instruction. The yoga group showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. They also reported less fatigue and improved quality of life.
In January, a study of nearly 200 breast cancer survivors, conducted at Ohio State University, found that yoga reduced fatigue and inflammation. In this randomized, controlled trial, the yoga participants reported a 57% decrease in fatigue just three months after their formal yoga classes ended. The researchers also took blood samples numerous times over the course of six months to measure the levels of three proinflammatory cytokines and found that the yoga group's average levels of inflammation were up to 20% lower than the control group. A secondary analysis showed that participants who practiced yoga more frequently experienced larger changes in vitality, depressive symptoms, and fatigue, and reported that they were sleeping better, too.
Even More Proven Benefits
The potential benefits of yoga for breast cancer don't stop there. A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, controlled studies on yoga for breast cancer patients and survivors, published in BMC Cancer in 2012, found that yoga participants experienced large reductions in distress, anxiety, and depression in three of the more rigorous studies. The authors of the systematic review also found moderate effects on fatigue, general quality of life, emotional function, and social function, as well as small increases in functional well-being, for yoga participants in some of the trials.
That said, the methodological rigors of yoga research could, in many cases, be improved, as critiqued in an article by Slate.com. As a result, we've chosen to feature studies in this article that were identified by researchers conducting systematic reviews as methodolically sound, randomized controlled trials with larger-than-the-average-yoga-study sample sizes.
Ask Your Doctor
Inspired? If you’re currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer or if you’re a survivor, ask your doctor if you are healthy enough to take a yoga class. Then seek out a yoga teacher in your area who has experience working with cancer patients and survivors.
© 2014 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies