According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the county. On a positive note, thanks to improved therapies more women are surviving this dreaded disease. These survivors strive to return to life as it was before they were stricken. A new study has found that yoga can benefit these women. The findings were published online on January 27 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology by researchers at Ohio State University and Ohio State University College of Medicine, both located in Columbus, Ohio.
For women recovering from breast cancer, exercise is one of the best ways to decrease fatigue and inflammation; however, cancer treatment often results in a significant decline in cardiorespiratory fitness, because the therapies are so debilitating. Breast cancer survivors have a 30% lower level of cardiorespiratory fitness, compared to their sedentary peers who have not undergone breast cancer treatment. Therefore, the investigators chose to use yoga with breast cancer survivors, because it can be used with all levels of fitness and can be adapted for women with physical limitations
The researchers conducted a study to evaluate yoga’s benefit on three common problems experienced by breast cancer survivors: inflammation, mood, and fatigue. The study group comprised 200 breast cancer survivors who were enrolled in a three month randomized, controlled trial. The women were assigned to either 12 weeks of 90-minute, twice weekly, hatha yoga classes or a control group. The women in the control group were placed on a wait list for enrollment in a future class. The main outcome measures were inflammation (measured by lipopolysaccharide-stimulated production of proinflammatory cytokines interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), and interleukin-1β (IL-1β), and scores on the Multidimensional Fatigue Symptom Inventory-Short Form (MFSI-SF), the vitality scale from the Medical Outcomes Study 36-item Short Form (SF-36), and the Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression (CES-D) scale.
The investigators found that immediately after the treatment concluded, compared to the control group, fatigue had not decreased but vitality was higher in the yoga group compared with the control group. However, at three months post-treatment, fatigue was less in the yoga group than the control group. In addition, vitality was higher, and IL-6, TNF-α, and IL-1β were lower in the yoga group than the control group. The researchers found that depression did not differ between the two groups at either time point. Secondary analyses found that the frequency of yoga practice was strongly associated with less fatigue and increased vitality at both time points. However, no difference between the groups was found in regard to depression. They noted that more frequent practice produced greater changes. At three months post-treatment, women with increasing yoga practice also were found to have a decrease in IL-6 and IL-1β production, but not in TNF-α production.
The authors concluded that chronic inflammation may fuel declines in physical function, resulting in frailty and disability. If yoga decreases both fatigue and inflammation, then regular practice could have substantial health benefits for breast cancer survivors.