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Yoga improves quality of life for breast cancer patients, study finds
03-07-2014

Woman participating in yoga and meditationBreast cancer treatment may be optimized by incorporating yoga. In fact, a recent study found that a regular yoga routine that included controlled breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques was linked to improved quality of life for women with breast cancer.

“What was apparent from the findings was that yoga resulted in improved aspects of quality of life, as well as improved stress hormone regulation,” said Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, director of the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The research, which is part of an overarching effort to better understand mind-body cancer interventions, found these effects to last up to six months after completing radiotherapy and the last yoga session.

Cohen and his team focused on nearly 200 women with stage zero to three breast cancer. The women were split into three groups. One group supplemented radiation treatment with one-hour yoga sessions three times a week for six weeks. Another group supplemented simple stretching exercises, while the last group did not incorporate any yoga or stretching into their regular treatment.

“Previous studies of yoga in cancer and other medical conditions typically didn’t compare yoga to another active intervention,” said Cohen. “So it wasn’t necessarily clear if there was anything unique about yoga.”

It looks as though there might be. Women in the yoga group exhibited the most drastic decline in stress hormones. According to researchers, this finding is particularly noteworthy as elevated stress hormones are associated with worse breast cancer outcomes. What’s more is that patients who participated in the yoga regimen reported improved general heath and less fatigue.

Compared to the other groups, these women were also more likely to find meaning in their cancer experience.

“These effects were above and beyond the effects for the group of women who just engaged in stretching exercises,” said Cohen, who added that mind-body techniques like yoga can help patients better cope with making the transition from active therapy to everyday life.

Cohen hopes that further research will validate these findings and eventually help change the standard of care for women with breast cancer.

By Marianne Hayes