may help breast
cancer survivors beat the debilitating fatigue
and sleep problems that often follow toxic treatments such as chemotherapy
and radiation, a new study shows.
Fatigue can be a big challenge for cancer survivors.
"Even some years out from breast cancer treatment, anywhere from 30 to
40% of women report substantial levels of fatigue," said study author
Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State
University in Columbus.
Nasty downward spiral
That may be due, in large part, to disrupted sleep. As many as 60% of cancer
survivors say they have trouble sleeping, she noted, a rate that's two to three
times higher than their cancer-free peers.
The end result is that many cancer
survivors end up trying to drag themselves through their days.
"And it's a nasty downward spiral where increasing fatigue means less
activity and less activity means increasing fatigue, so that over time less and
less translates into greater frailty and decline," Kiecolt-Glaser said.
Kiecolt-Glaser, who studies the health effects of stress, wanted to see if
it was possible to stop that cycle.
She and her colleagues, including her husband and research collaborator,
Ronald Glaser, recruited 200 women aged 27 to 76 who were new to yoga and had
finished treatment for breast cancer within the last three years. They had to
be at least two months past their last treatment and otherwise healthy to
The women were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The first group
practiced the gentle, flowing poses of Hatha yoga for two 90-minute sessions
each week for three months. The second group was placed on a waiting list.
Before and after the study, all the women answered detailed questions about
their energy and vitality, mental health, the kind of support they felt they
were getting from friends and family, their sleep, how active they were and
even their diet. Researchers also performed blood tests to measure markers of
The differences weren't immediately apparent. After three months of
practice, women in the yoga group reported that they had more vitality and were
sleeping better, compared to the group that was waiting to take the class.
And after their group sessions ended, most who were taking yoga gradually
stopped practicing. Their physical
activity went back to the level it was when they signed up for the study.
Despite that, they continued to improve.
At the six-month mark, the women practicing yoga reported about 60% less
fatigue than the women on the waiting list, and their measures of inflammation
were 13% to 20% lower.
The longer they practiced yoga, the greater their improvements,
The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Previous studies have reported similar benefits.
helps cancer survivors
"It's pretty consistent now across a number of different studies that
yoga can be useful for improving symptoms like fatigue and sleep disturbances,
which are extremely prevalent in breast cancer survivors and cancer survivors, in
general," said Lorenzo Cohen, director of the integrative medicine program
at M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston.
More than exercise
Cohen said one question the study doesn't answer is whether any kind of
exercise might have yielded these benefits, or if it was something specific
about yoga that made the difference.
"Ideally, a next step is to really see, is yoga something more than
exercise? Is yoga something more than the physical aspect? From Eastern
philosophies, our best guess is that yes, it will be something more than just
exercise because it's a mind-body practice, not just a body practice," he
Cohen advises people who are new to yoga to start slowly.
"It's important that you never push your body. Any physical exercise
can result in harm if you push too hard," he said. "You can get equal
benefits if you touch your toes or not. Yoga is about the process and not the
common yoga myths