The following is a brief summary of an investigation conducted by our research lab on the effectiveness of yoga in a breast cancer population. This study was funded by the Breast Cancer Foundation and was published in the peer reviewed Journal of Cancer Science and Research.
The Mayo Clinic endorses yoga as a way to fight stress, get fit, and stay healthy.
The benefits of yoga include stress reduction, improved sense of well-being, enhanced mood, improved balance, as well as increases in flexibility, range of motion, strength and management of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, depression, and insomnia.
Recently, studies have found that yoga is beneficial in breast cancer recovery (1-7). One such study found improvements in menopausal symptoms, including hot-flash frequency and severity, joint pain, fatigue, sleep disturbance, and vigor in breast cancer survivors who practiced yoga three days/week (1).
Another study linked yoga with improved mental health, relaxation, and spiritually, as well as decreased depression and pain. Physically, participants experienced increased muscular strength, flexibility, range of motion, energy, and sleep quality (2).
Further studies have found that yoga programs increase general health perception and physical functioning scores (3), decrease perceived stress levels and anxiety/depression (4), cortisol levels (5), emotional irritability, gastrointestinal symptoms, tension, and cognitive disorganization (6). These findings appear to extended to all ethnicities tested (7).
However, in light of these benefits, yoga is not commonly prescribed as an exercise intervention for breast cancer survivors.
Following surgery, patients are often given informational packets listing range of motion exercises and strength training activities to improve muscular strength and range of motion.
Thus, the purpose of this investigation was to examine the effect of yoga on improvements in range of motion and muscular strength in women with stage II or III breast cancer receiving adjuvant radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy following breast surgery, as compared to patients receiving the current standard of care.
This controlled trial evaluated the effects of yoga intervention in 77 newly diagnosed stage II and III breast cancer patients undergoing surgery followed by adjuvant radiation and/or chemotherapy. An ethical committee of the recruiting cancer center approved this study prior to the onset of any data collection.
The yoga practices consisted of a set of breathing exercises, range of motion and strengthening exercises, meditation, and guided imagery relaxation techniques with a certified yoga instructor.Participants were asked to practice yoga for 1 h at a time, three times a week for 8 weeks.
An analysis of covariance using baseline muscular strength scores as a covariate showed a significant increase in muscular strength following surgery (F (65) =7.06, P= 0.01), before radiotherapy (F (62) =7.77, P= 0.007), and following radiotherapy (F (62) =17.42, P< 0.001) in the yoga group. In addition, The yoga group also showed increase in flexibility score before chemotherapy (F (57) =6.03, P= 0.04), and after chemotherapy (F (57) =10.89, P= 0.002) as compared to controls.
Statistical analyses revealed a greater increase in muscular strength and flexibility in the yoga group, compared to controls.
Overall, this study supports the practice of yoga in recovery from breast cancer surgery. While traditional strength training is also effective, patients may benefit from a group setting, where support and encouragement from others who are on the same journey may help them thrive in their recovery.
- “Stress Management.” Yoga: Fight Stress and Find Serenity. Mayo Clinic. Web. 29 Apr. 2015.
- Danhauer, S. C., Mihalko, S. L., Russell, G. B., Campbell, C. R., Felder, L., Daley, K., et al. (2009). Restorative yoga for women with breast cancer: Findings from a randomized pilot study. Psycho-Oncology, 18(4), 360-368.
- Chandwani KD, Thornton B, Perkins GH, et al. Yoga improves quality of life and benefit finding in women undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer. Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology, 2010, 8(2):43-55.
- Banerjee, B., Vadiraj, H. S., Ram, A., Rao, R., Jayapal, M., Gopinath, K. S., et al. (2007). Effects of an integrated yoga program in modulating psychological stress and radiation-induced genotoxic stress in breast cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy. Integrative Cancer Therapies, 6(3), 242-250.
- Carson, James, Kimberly Carson, Laura Porter, and Francis Keefe. “Yoga of Awareness Program for Menopausal Symptoms in Breast Cancer Survivors: Results from a Randomized Trial.” Supportive Care in Cancer 17.10 (2009): 1301-309.
- Nicole Culos-Reed, S., Carlson, L. E., Daroux, L. M., & Hately-Aldous, S. (2006). A pilot study of yoga for breast cancer survivors: Physical and psychological benefits. Psycho-Oncology, 15(10), 891-897.
- Moadel, A. B., Shah, C., Wylie-Rosett, J., Harris, M. S., Patel, S. R., Hall, C. B., et al. (2007). Randomized controlled trial of yoga among a multiethnic sample of breast cancer patients: Effects on quality of life. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 25(28), 4387-4395.