Breast cancer survivors can hope to overcome fatigue by practicing yoga, new research shows. It is a small study covering only 31 patients, but the results are encouraging.
More than 66% of breast cancer survivors suffer tiredness following recovery, caused directly by the disease, physical deterioration or the treatment received.
Some studies have shown that stress-reduction techniques or exercise classes can help reduce fatigue among cancer patients and survivors in general. But none of them has specifically targeted cancer survivors experiencing fatigue to see if a potential therapy reverses the problem, according to Julienne Bower, an associate professor in the psychology department of the University of California, Los Angeles, and her colleagues.
They recruited 31 breast cancer survivors to undergo "treatment" for their fatigue over 12 weeks at the UCLA Medical Center. Each woman was randomly assigned to participate in either two 90-minute yoga classes every week or a two-hour health class once a week.
At the start of the study, each group of women had similar scores on a questionnaire that gauges fatigue levels.
The group taking the educational classes experienced about the same amount of fatigue and energy throughout the initial study period. However, the group taking the yoga class reported about a 26 percent drop in fatigue and a 55 percent increase in energy after the 12-week yoga regimen.
The women in the yoga group also continued to report significant improvements in fatigue levels three months after the classes stopped.
The findings, published in the journal Cancer, do not prove that yoga caused the improvements in fatigue levels. The researchers note, however, that both groups of women had similar expectations that their assigned "treatment" would help them, so a placebo effect is not a likely explanation for the benefits seen in the yoga group.
Jacquelyn Banasik, an associate professor in the College of Nursing at Washington State University, also noted improvements in cancer fatigue after yoga classes in a study she published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners in 2010.
"I can't say that yoga is the only way to achieve the results seen in ours and other studies," Banasik told Reuters Health in an email. "A beginning ballet class -- with (its) emphasis on form and positioning -- might have similar effects. Gaining a sense of control over one's physical body, when one has a disease like breast cancer, might be an important part of the benefit."
A previous study indicated Wednesday that breast cancer patients who practice yoga experience lower stress and improved quality of life compared to counterparts who do stretching exercises.