Yoga for Breast Cancer Relieves Anxiety, Stress, and Treatment Side Effects

Anyone who has ever battled breast cancer or seen a loved one endure the illness can testify to its many hardships. Cancer doesn’t just attack physically; it brings a whole slew of emotional, mental, and psychological baggage as well. As if the diagnosis weren’t enough to cause for anxiety and depression, the disease itself weakens the body’s ability to cope with the very stress it causes.

Those looking for ways to cope with the emotional distress, mental fog, and heavy depression that often accompany the illness will be interested to learn that multiple studies have shown yoga for breast cancer can provide relief.

One study, published in Complementary Therapy Medicine, 2009, revealed that yoga for breast cancer can help alleviate one of the most common accomplices of cancer: anxiety.  The study looked included 48 stage II and II breast cancer patients undergoing surgery followed by radio- and chemotherapy. The participants were randomly separated into two groups:  the first 18 received hour-long daily yoga therapy sessions targeting cancer patients, while the other 20, the control group, received supportive therapy.

Both the yoga therapy group and the control group were assessed for self-reported state anxiety as well as trait anxiety at the start of the study, after surgery, and throughout radiotherapy and chemotherapy. When the researchers tallied the results, they saw that those who had participated in the daily yoga for breast cancer classes displayed an overall decrease in both state and trait anxiety in comparison to the control group.

Furthermore, the researchers observed a direct correlation between anxiety and the severity of the side effects from the cancer treatments participants were undergoing. In other words, the results indicate that not only can yoga for cancer patients help relieve anxiety, but it can help patients manage the all-too-frequent discomfort and side-effects of conventional treatments as well.

In addition to reducing anxiety and treatment-related symptoms, yoga for breast cancer can also improve overall quality of life in breast cancer sufferers. Another study, also published in Complementary Therapy Medicine in 2009, charted the effects of the practice on 88 stage II and III breast cancer outpatients. The randomized, controlled study, conducted at the Department of Yoga Research in Bangalore, India, provided 44 of the patients with daily, hour-long yoga therapy sessions and the other 44 with supportive therapy. Both groups took quality of life assessments at the start of the study and after six weeks of radiotherapy treatment.

By the end of the study, those in the yoga for breast cancer group showed significant improvements in emotional function, social function, and cognitive function, as well as increased overall quality of life in comparison to the controls. The regular yoga sessions the breast cancer sufferers participated in helped them reclaim their lives with greater strength and success.

In addition to quality of life measurements, the 88 breast cancer patients in the study were also monitored for other symptoms of stress, both emotional and physical. The findings of these measurements, published in Integrative Cancer Therapy, 2009, revealed that the regular yoga therapy sessions significantly decreased anxiety, depression, and perceived stress. The yoga sessions for breast cancer also reduced patients’ morning salivary cortisol, and pooled mean cortisol—two major measures of the stress-hormone.

The latter results are particularly significant, because they indicate that yoga’s psychological benefits for those with breast cancer don’t just remain on the level of the mind and emotions; they influence body chemistry as well, modulating stress hormones and holistically nourishing the patient into a higher level of health and well being.

It is well known that stress is a main factor in suppressing the body’s immune functions and thereby weakening its ability to fight disease. By lowering the overall stress and anxiety levels in breast cancer patients, yoga therapy may help strengthen the body’s natural resources for fighting the disease, in turn possibly improving the chances of long-term survival.

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