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Yoga for Breast Cancer

All About Yoga and Breast Cancer

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Updated June 01, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

For women coping with breast cancer, yoga may offer a host of benefits. Although yoga can't treat cancer itself, some research suggests that taking up a yoga practice might help breast cancer patients and survivors deal with the following cancer-related problems:

1) Fatigue

Fatigue is common among breast cancer patients, especially when undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. For a clinical trial published in the International Journal of Yoga in 2009, researchers assigned 88 breast cancer patients to receive either yoga or therapy prior to radiation treatment. Results revealed that those in the yoga group had significantly less fatigue, psychological distress, insomnia, and appetite loss (compared to those in the therapy group).

In a previous study of 13 women with metastatic breast cancer (published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management in 2007), scientists found that an eight-week yoga-based treatment program helped reduce fatigue and pain (as well as promote relaxation).

2) Emotional Issues

A number of studies show that practicing yoga may help ease emotional troubles among women with breast cancer. For instance, a 2009 study from the journal Psychooncology found that breast cancer patients who took part in 10 weekly, 75-minute restorative yoga classes experienced greater improvements in emotional well-being, mental health, and depression (compared to those assigned to a wait list). The study included 44 women, 34 percent of whom were undergoing cancer treatment.

Other studies indicate that yoga may help lessen irritability, mood disturbance, and negative thinking among breast cancer patients and survivors.

3) Anxiety

Yoga may help soothe anxiety among women in breast cancer treatment, according to a 2009 study from Complementary Therapies in Medicine. For the study, 98 breast cancer patients were assigned to take part in a 60-minute yoga class or a therapy session prior to receiving cancer treatment (such as surgery). Study results showed that members of the yoga group had lower levels of anxiety (compared to those who received therapy).

Is Yoga Safe for Breast Cancer Patients?

While yoga is generally considered safe, certain postures may be difficult to achieve or may induce muscle and/or joint damage if not executed properly.

Learn more about yoga and cancer.

Should You Use Yoga to Cope with Breast Cancer?

While yoga may be of some benefit to breast cancer patients and survivors, it should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment. If you're interested in incorporating yoga into your breast cancer treatment, talk to your doctor about finding a yoga program that's right for you.

Sources:

Carson JW, Carson KM, Porter LS, Keefe FJ, Shaw H, Miller JM. "Yoga for women with metastatic breast cancer: results from a pilot study." J Pain Symptom Manage. 2007 Mar;33(3):331-41.

Culos-Reed SN, Carlson LE, Daroux LM, Hately-Aldous S. "A pilot study of yoga for breast cancer survivors: physical and psychological benefits." Psychooncology. 2006 Oct;15(10):891-7.

Danhauer SC, Mihalko SL, Russell GB, Campbell CR, Felder L, Daley K, Levine EA. "Restorative yoga for women with breast cancer: findings from a randomized pilot study." Psychooncology. 2009 Apr;18(4):360-8.

Danhauer SC, Tooze JA, Farmer DF, Campbell CR, McQuellon RP, Barrett R, Miller BE. "Restorative yoga for women with ovarian or breast cancer: findings from a pilot study." J Soc Integr Oncol. 2008 Spring;6(2):47-58.

Moadel AB, Shah C, Wylie-Rosett J, Harris MS, Patel SR, Hall CB, Sparano JA. "Randomized controlled trial of yoga among a multiethnic sample of breast cancer patients: effects on quality of life." J Clin Oncol. 2007 Oct 1;25(28):4387-95. Epub 2007 Sep 4.

Rao MR, Raghuram N, Nagendra HR, Gopinath KS, Srinath BS, Diwakar RB, Patil S, Bilimagga SR, Rao N, Varambally S. "Anxiolytic effects of a yoga program in early breast cancer patients undergoing conventional treatment: a randomized controlled trial." Complement Ther Med. 2009 Jan;17(1):1-8. Epub 2008 Oct 14.

Speed-Andrews AE, Stevinson C, Belanger LJ, Mirus JJ, Courneya KS. "Pilot evaluation of an Iyengar yoga program for breast cancer survivors." Cancer Nurs. 2010 Sep-Oct;33(5):369-81.

Vadiraja SH, Rao MR, Nagendra RH, Nagarathna R, Rekha M, Vanitha N, Gopinath SK, Srinath B, Vishweshwara M, Madhavi Y, S Ajaikumar B, Ramesh SB, Rao N. "Effects of yoga on symptom management in breast cancer patients: A randomized controlled trial." Int J Yoga. 2009 Jul;2(2):73-9.

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