Some cancer patients seek out yoga as way to alleviate the symptoms and side effects of treatment. Palliative care experts know yoga can help with flexibility and strength and range of motion. Research studies don’t necessarily maintain that yoga should be a primary treatment, but do support that it may improve a cancer patient’s quality of life since it has been shown to relieve stress that is associated with cancer treatments and/or the disease’s advancement.
Leading cancer centers in the United States including Memorial Sloan-Kettering, MD Anderson, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have taken steps to offer yoga as an alternative adjunct therapy for cancer patients.
Traditionally, the majority of research regarding cancer and yoga focused primarily on patients with breast cancer; however, recent research has begun to focus on all types of cancer patients.
Outcomes from these studies show that there are both physical and mental benefits for cancer patients. According to a medical article titled, Yoga for Cancer Patients and Survivors, by Julienne E. Bower PhD, Beth Sternlieb, Deborah Garet, MPH, and Alison Woolery, MA, “Nine studies conducted with cancer patients and survivors yielded modest improvements in sleep quality, mood, stress, cancer-related distress, cancer-related symptoms, and overall quality of life.”
Yoga and Relief of Cancer Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects
Yoga is the practice of using specific exercises and methods that teach proper breathing, posture, and meditation in order to gain physical and mental control over the body for better overall well-being. The benefits of yoga lead to overall improved physical fitness and relaxation. These benefits in turn may give cancer patients relief from cancer symptoms and side effects. Various studies show that patients who participate in two to seven yoga sessions per week (approximately 75 to 90 min. per session) may experience positive results.
Yoga and Anxiety/Stress Symptoms
A common occurrence in cancer patients is shallow breathing or inefficient breathing due to the stress of having a disease. Yoga may be beneficial to cancer patients because it teaches proper slow and deep breathing techniques that increase oxygen and decrease stress and anxiety.
According to The American Cancer Society, studies relating to yoga and the immune system have shown that yoga positively affects the immune system by lowering levels of stress that may contribute to the progression of cancers. Additionally, yoga helps reduce overall stress on the body that in turn reduces the release of cortisol that has been shown to contribute to tumor growth and other cancer indicators.
Yoga and Decreased Insomnia
A study was conducted by the National Cancer Institute regarding cancer patients that had sleeping problems. After patients participated in yoga sessions for a period of one month (twice weekly), a significant number had less problems sleeping and were 20 percent less likely to use sleep medications. Their levels of fatigued were also reduced.
Another clinical trial involving lymphoma patients that participated in yoga and those that did not showed that the yoga patients slept for longer periods, fell asleep faster, and had less sleep disturbances than the patients that did not participate in yoga.
Yoga and Chronic Pain
A study published in March 2007 by the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, states that women with breast cancer that participated in yoga experienced less fatigue and pain.
Yoga and the Depression
Cancer patients commonly suffer from depression due to their physical condition or negative effects and difficulties from cancer treatments. Patients that participate in yoga become more aware of their emotions and learn to replace negative thoughts with neutral thoughts. Breathing and meditation techniques help patients cope better with their situations. According to the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Alyson Moadel of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, studied the relationship between breast cancer patients and the benefits of yoga. She found that patients who participated in yoga experienced more positive emotional improvements than patients that did not participate in yoga.
Yoga and Cancer Treatment Side Effects
A study conducted by MD Anderson Cancer Center showed that patients who participated in a trial of yoga classes (twice weekly) for a period of six weeks experienced less fatigue when undergoing radiation treatments. Additionally, the patients were less tired during the day.
Another study conducted by the Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy (CCRYN) showed that cancer patients who participated in yoga experienced a reduced level of side effects from chemotherapy toxicity. The cancer patients also seemed to have a greater threshold for pain and distress from chemo treatments.
Research associated with yoga and its benefits on cancer patients has involved a variety of factors such as various cancer types, stages of cancer, and treatment levels. The outcomes show a steady stream of positive effects on cancer patients and survivors that include improved sleep quality, decreased depression, reduced stress and anxiety, less cancer-related distress, physiological improvements, decreased pain, and an overall better quality of life.
Studies have shown that cancer patients have made improvements across different types or techniques of yoga. Patients experience different levels of improvement depending on the cancer type and stage, and at the point in which the patient begins participating in yoga therapy.
Sources of information on this page: MayoClinic, CNN, MSNBC, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center