Yoga eases fatigue for breast cancer patients undergoing radiation

March 11, 2014 | by Tami Dennis

Women undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer should try yoga. That’s the take-home message of a new study linking yoga to a greater sense of well-being and better regulation of stress hormones among female breast cancer patients.

Yoga improves well-being and reduces fatigue among female breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, a new study has found.

The study, published online March 3 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, was conducted by researchers at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and adds to increasing evidence that exercise benefits cancer patients.

"This study supports that the more you do, the better off you are," said City of Hope's Joanne Mortimer, M.D., providing expert commentary on the study to HealthDay. Mortimer is director of Women's Cancers Programs.

To measure the impact of yoga, researchers assigned women undergoing radiation therapy to one of three groups. One group practiced yoga for up to three times a week, one group did stretching exercises for up to three times a week and one group did neither. Participants in each group shared with researchers their feelings of fatigue and how that impacted their quality of life, as well as their levels of depression and sleep disturbances. They also gave saliva samples so researchers could measure their levels of cortisol, considered an indicator of stress.  

The outcome? Women who practiced yoga reported significantly greater well-being and less fatigue than their counterparts in the other groups.

Notably, yoga – or stretching for that matter – didn’t seem to affect sleep quality. Study co-author Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., director of the integrative medicine program at M.D. Anderson, suggested that perhaps all the women were doing just fine in that respect at the beginning of the study.

Regardless, for women undergoing radiation for breast cancer, yoga seems worth a try.

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City of Hope offers yoga classes to patients through its Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center. Those classes include these simple yoga postures you can do at home.

Also, learn more about City of Hope's Yoga for Hope, a popular fundraising event for yoga beginners and experts alike that brings awareness to the benefits of yoga practice for patients with life-threatening illnesses.

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