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Yoga can help breast cancer patients, says study

July 07, 2011 19:58 IST

A research conducted by the University of Texas's M D Anderson Cancer Center in collaboration with the Bangalore-based Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana says yoga offers benefits to women undergoing radiation therapy for treating breast cancer.

While simple stretching exercises improved fatigue, patients who participated in yoga incorporating yogic breathing, postures, meditation and relaxation techniques into their treatment plan experienced improved physical functioning, better general health and lower stress hormone levels, the study said.

The study's findings are to be presented this month in an oral session at the 47th annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology by Lorenzo Cohen, professor and director of the integrative medicine program at MD Anderson.

The study assessed -- for the first time, the researchers said -- yoga benefits to cancer patients by comparing their experience with patients in an active control group who integrated simple, generic stretching exercises into their lives.

'The combination of mind and body practices that are part of yoga clearly have tremendous potential to help patients manage the psychosocial and physical distress associated with treatment and life after cancer, beyond the benefits of simple stretching Cohen said.

To conduct the study, 163 women with breast cancer (stage 0-3) averaging 52 years of age were divided into one of three groups: Yoga; simple stretching; or no instruction in yoga or stretching.

Participants in the yoga and stretching groups attended sessions specifically tailored to breast cancer patients for one hour, three days a week, throughout their six weeks of radiation treatment. They were asked to report on their quality of life, including fatigue, daily functioning, benefit finding, depression and spirituality.

After completing radiation treatment, only the women in the yoga and stretching groups reported a reduction in fatigue. They also reported greater benefits to physical functioning and general health including the steepest decline in their stress hormone level across the day.

Higher stress hormone levels throughout the day have been linked to worse outcomes in breast cancer, the study noted. According to Cohen, developing a yoga practice also helps patients after completing cancer treatment.

'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. Teaching patients a mind-body technique such as yoga as a coping skill can make the transition less difficult,' he added.

Through a grant from the National Cancer Institute -- the largest ever awarded for the study of the effect of yoga on cancer -- Cohen and his team will next conduct a Phase III clinical trial in women with breast cancer to further determine the mechanisms of yoga that lead to improvement in physical functioning, quality of life, and biological outcomes during and after radiation treatment.

A secondary aim of the trial, but one of great importance, stressed Cohen, is assessing cost efficiency analysis for the hospital, health-care usage costs in general, and examining work productivity of patients.

Besides Cohen, other MD Anderson researchers who contributed to the study included Kavita Chandwani and Banu Arun. Collaborators from Bangalore included N V Raghuram, R Nagarathna, and H R Nagendra.

Image:  People gather to practice yoga at Times Square

Suman Guha Mozumdar in New York