Help Cancer Survivor Memory with Yoga


“Up to 75% of cancer patients experience some form of cancer-related cognitive impairment (CRCI) during cancer treatments (eg, chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, hormone therapy), and this impairment persists for months or up to 20 years in 20% to 35% of survivors.” – Janelsins, et al.


Cognitive impairments are a frequent side effect of cancer treatment. This has been dubbed “chemo brain.” Patients often refer to it as a mental cloudiness. The patients report problems including forgetting things, trouble concentrating, trouble remembering details like names and dates, trouble multi-tasking, like answering the phone while cooking, taking longer to finish things, disorganized and slower thinking, and trouble remembering common words. These cognitive impairments generally produce problems with work and even social relationships such that patients tend to isolate themselves. They can also produce treatment problems as the patients often forget to take their medications.


These problems result from the fact that chemotherapy, radiation therapy and many cancer drugs directly affect the nervous system. One of the potential intermediaries is sleep disruption as cancer treatments are known to produce sleep problems and lack of sleep is known to produce cognitive problems like those reported with “chemo brain.” At present there are no known treatments for these treatment induced cognitive impairments. Contemplative practices have been shown to affect memory (see, promote increased sleep quality (see and have positive effects on cancer treatment and recovery (see  So, perhaps contemplative practices may be useful for the alleviation of “chemo brain” symptoms.


Yoga has been shown to improve sleep quality in recovered cancer patients. So, it would seem to be a likely contemplative practice candidate for the treatment of the cognitive effects of cancer treatment. In today’s Research News article “YOCAS©® Yoga Reduces Self-reported Memory Difficulty in Cancer Survivors in a Nationwide Randomized Clinical Trial: Investigating Relationships Between Memory and Sleep”

Janelsins and colleagues conducted a randomized clinical trial of the effect of a yoga practice program on the sleep and cognitive symptoms of recovered cancer patients. They randomly assigned the patients, 2 to 24 months after completing surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy, to either a yoga or a standard care group. The toga practice consisted of twice weekly 75-minute yoga sessions for four weeks. The study found that the yoga practice both reduced memory problems and sleep impairments. In addition, they showed that the sleep improvement was in part responsible for the yoga produced improvement in memory.


These results of this was a well conducted controlled trial are encouraging. Additionally, the yoga practice did not produce any adverse effects. So. the results suggest that yoga practice is a safe and effective treatment for the sleep and memory problems that accompany recovery from cancer. They further suggest that at least in part, the poor sleep quality in recovered cancer patients is responsible for some of the memory impairment and the sleep improvement produced by yoga may in part be responsible for some of the memory improvement seen in these patients.  Since, yoga has many other physical and psychological beneficial effects (see, it would seem to be an almost ideal addition to the usual care that recovered cancer patients receive.


So, help cancer survivor memory with yoga.


“The worst days are when you feel foggy in the head – chemo-brain they call it. It’s awful because you feel boring. As well as bored. And stupid. And resigned.” – Christopher Hitchens


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

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