yoga and breast cancer treatment

Can yoga reduce the side-effects of breast cancer treatment?

We’re all aware of the beneficial effects of yoga: that it’s been clinically proven to reduce the risk of heart disease and hypertension, as well as having the ability to lessen symptoms of depression, headaches and diabetes. But is there anything in the idea that it can benefit cancer survivors, too?

A recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania which was published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology and Physics last month seems to point towards a positive outcome. The study, which covered 68 sufferers of prostate cancer who were undergoing radiation therapy, split the participants into two groups: one which participated in twice-weekly yoga sessions, and one which didn’t.

Bend, but don’t break

After a 15-month period, the results were clear: the yoga participants started to report less fatigue than the non-yoga group after four to five weeks of activity, along with a greater ability to deal with the demands of day-to-day life. While the people behind the study have taken great pains to point out that the results are more of an emotional and physical bent than actually curing anything, it’s clear that something good is happening to people who partake in yoga.

But can yoga do anything for those who are fighting breast cancer? According to a 2014 study conducted by Ohio State University, there’s a lot to recommend the activity. Aware of the statistic that a third of breast cancer survivors complain that fatigue interferes with day-to-day activities, the study – which covered 200 breast cancer survivors of all ages – had a similar result: a lower level of fatigue and markers of inflammation in yoga participants compared to those who lived a more sedentary lifestyle.

How can yoga help?

There are three clear signifiers that have been pointed out by health experts:

  1. Yoga helps manage negativity: Research conducted in 2013 concluded that a yoga regime which incorporated yogic breathing was a vital aid to enriching the respiratory system, which in turn regulated nerves and instilled a feeling of calmness – something that is sorely needed by people who have had their lives disrupted and threatened by cancer.
  2. Yoga increases the production of endorphins: Just like any other form of exercise, yoga can jack up the production of endorphins – the mood-improving brain chemical which boosts our mood and keeps us feeling positive.
  3. Yoga can help cope with physical pain: Even a gentle exercise routine has been proven to reduce pain and stress, and entry-level yoga is the textbook definition of ‘gentle exercise’.

The other great thing about yoga is that it can be performed alone, but also as a group activity – and community support has been proven to be a huge aid to people in remission, whether you’re going it with fellow survivors or not.