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Yoga for Women with Breast Cancer

A very exciting recent study from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, funded by the National Institutes of Health, has found that yoga is beneficial for women with breast cancer undergoing radiation treatment. About 1 in 8 women (12%) in the U.S. develop breast cancer over their lifetime. Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in U.S. women, accounting for 28% of all cancer diagnoses.

In the yoga study, 163 women with stage 0-3 breast cancer were randomized to one of three groups: yoga; simple stretching; or control — no yoga or stretching. The yoga and stretching groups attended one-hour sessions three times per week for six weeks during radiation treatment.

At the end of radiation treatment, the patients in both the yoga and the stretching groups reported experiencing less fatigue. The participants were also followed up one, three, and six months after treatment. The women who had practiced yoga during the treatment period reported improved physical functioning and general health. The patients were also more likely to find positive changes as a result of their cancer.

The women's levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, were also tested. High cortisol levels are found in people with high levels of stress. Chronically high cortisol levels can lead to health problems, and are associated with poor outcome in women with breast cancer. In the study, women who had practiced yoga saw the greatest decline in cortisol levels, revealing that yoga is able to regulate this important stress hormone.

This is an important study, as it shows that yoga has benefits, even over simple stretching exercises. This may seem obvious to a regular yoga practitioner who knows that yoga is much more than stretching, but the general public may not have this same perspective. Studies like this give much validation to this ancient science. Yoga is being studied for a number of health conditions, and rightly so. One day we will likely see yoga in the hospital setting in a similar way as physical therapy.

Jamey Jones
About the Author
Jamey is a health and science writer with a special interest in the healing practice of yoga. As a registered yoga teacher (RYT 200), she feels it is important to highlight the practicality of yoga – meeting the practitioner where he or she is at. She believes yoga has something to give everyone, and that each person's practice is unique to the practitioner. With a bachelor of science degree in botany and years of experience in the natural health field, she writes about yoga with an integrated perspective.