Yoga may help breast cancer patients improve quality of life

For women undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer, yoga may improve quality of life beyond treatment, researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center found.

In a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers studied the effects of yoga on a group of 191 women with stages 0-3 of breast cancer. The women were divided into three groups: those who did yoga, those who did simple stretching or those who received no instruction in yoga or stretching. Compared to the other groups, women who did yoga reported a reduction in fatigue and an improvement in general health and functioning after radiation treatment.

Researchers also measured participants’ cortisol levels throughout the day. Cortisol is a “stress hormone” and high levels of it have been linked to worse outcomes in breast cancer. Women in the yoga group demonstrated the sharpest declines in cortisol during the day, indicating that yoga may have the ability to help regulate the hormone.

"Combining mind and body practices that are part of yoga clearly have tremendous potential to help patients manage the psychosocial and physical difficulties associated with treatment and life after cancer, beyond the benefits of simple stretching,” study author Lorenzo Cohen, professor and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, said.

The cancer center’s research was conducted in collaboration with India’s largest yoga research institution, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, as part of an ongoing effort to scientifically validate mind-body interventions in cancer patients. The researchers, through a grant from the National Cancer Institute, are now conducting a phase-3 clinical trial in breast cancer patients to further understand how yoga leads to improved physical functioning, quality of life and biological outcomes during and after radiation treatment.