Improve Symptoms and Quality of Life in Breast Cancer Patients with Yoga

Improve Symptoms and Quality of Life in Breast Cancer Patients with Yoga


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Studies have shown mindfulness-based stress reduction can be effective in alleviating anxiety and depression, decreasing long-term emotional and physical side effects of treatments and improving the quality of sleep in breast cancer patients.” – Breast Cancer Research Foundation


Receiving a diagnosis of cancer has a huge impact on most people. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear are very common and are normal responses to this life-changing and potentially life-ending experience. But cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence. Over half of the people diagnosed with cancer are still alive 10 years later and this number is rapidly increasing. But, surviving cancer carries with it a number of problems. Anxiety, depression, fatigue and insomnia are common symptoms in the aftermath of surviving breast cancer. These symptoms markedly reduce the quality of life of the patients.


Mindfulness training has been shown to help with cancer recovery and help to alleviate many of the residual physical and psychological symptoms, including fatiguestress,  sleep disturbance, and anxiety and depression. Yoga practice is a form of mindfulness training that is also an exercise that has been shown to be beneficial for cancer patients. The research on yoga practice as a treatment for patients recovering from breast cancer has been accumulating. It is thus important to take a step back and summarize what has been learned.


In today’s Research News article “Yoga for improving health-related quality of life, mental health and cancer-related symptoms in women diagnosed with breast cancer.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Cramer and colleagues review, summarize, and perform a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of yoga practice as a treatment for patients recovering from breast cancer. They identified 24 published research studies, 17 of which compared yoga practice to no-treatment, while 4 compared it to a psychoeducation program while 3 compared it to another exercise.


They found that the published research reports that in comparison to no-treatment yoga practice significantly improves health related quality of life and reduces fatigue and disturbance of sleep in women recovering from breast cancer. When compared to psychoeducation programs (4 studies), yoga practice had additional significant reductions of anxiety and depression. But, when compared to other exercise programs (3 studies), no significant effects were reported.


These results are interesting and suggest that yoga practice is a safe and effective treatment for women recovering from breast cancer, improving their quality of life and physical and mental well-being. The fact that these benefits were not significantly different from other forms of exercise suggests that the it’s the exercise provided by yoga that is the important aspect of the practice producing the benefits. Regardless, it is clear that yoga practice is quite helpful for the well-being of women recovering from breast cancer.


So, improve symptoms and quality of life in breast cancer patients with yoga.


“Results show promise for mindfulness-based interventions to treat common psychological problems such as anxiety, stress, and depression in cancer survivors and to improve overall quality of life.” — Linda E. Carlson


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ and on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Klose, P., Lange, S., Langhorst, J., & Dobos, G. J. (2017). Yoga for improving health-related quality of life, mental health and cancer-related symptoms in women diagnosed with breast cancer. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 1(1), CD010802. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD010802.pub2




Breast cancer is the cancer most frequently diagnosed in women worldwide. Even though survival rates are continually increasing, breast cancer is often associated with long‐term psychological distress, chronic pain, fatigue and impaired quality of life. Yoga comprises advice for an ethical lifestyle, spiritual practice, physical activity, breathing exercises and meditation. It is a complementary therapy that is commonly recommended for breast cancer‐related impairments and has been shown to improve physical and mental health in people with different cancer types.


To assess effects of yoga on health‐related quality of life, mental health and cancer‐related symptoms among women with a diagnosis of breast cancer who are receiving active treatment or have completed treatment.

Search methods

We searched the Cochrane Breast Cancer Specialised Register, MEDLINE (via PubMed), Embase, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; 2016, Issue 1), Indexing of Indian Medical Journals (IndMED), the World Health Organization (WHO) International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) search portal and on 29 January 2016. We also searched reference lists of identified relevant trials or reviews, as well as conference proceedings of the International Congress on Complementary Medicine Research (ICCMR), the European Congress for Integrative Medicine (ECIM) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). We applied no language restrictions.

Selection criteria

Randomised controlled trials were eligible when they (1) compared yoga interventions versus no therapy or versus any other active therapy in women with a diagnosis of non‐metastatic or metastatic breast cancer, and (2) assessed at least one of the primary outcomes on patient‐reported instruments, including health‐related quality of life, depression, anxiety, fatigue or sleep disturbances.

Data collection and analysis

Two review authors independently collected data on methods and results. We expressed outcomes as standardised mean differences (SMDs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) and conducted random‐effects model meta‐analyses. We assessed potential risk of publication bias through visual analysis of funnel plot symmetry and heterogeneity between studies by using the Chi2 test and the I2 statistic. We conducted subgroup analyses for current treatment status, time since diagnosis, stage of cancer and type of yoga intervention.

Main results

We included 24 studies with a total of 2166 participants, 23 of which provided data for meta‐analysis. Thirteen studies had low risk of selection bias, five studies reported adequate blinding of outcome assessment and 15 studies had low risk of attrition bias.

Seventeen studies that compared yoga versus no therapy provided moderate‐quality evidence showing that yoga improved health‐related quality of life (pooled SMD 0.22, 95% CI 0.04 to 0.40; 10 studies, 675 participants), reduced fatigue (pooled SMD ‐0.48, 95% CI ‐0.75 to ‐0.20; 11 studies, 883 participants) and reduced sleep disturbances in the short term (pooled SMD ‐0.25, 95% CI ‐0.40 to ‐0.09; six studies, 657 participants). The funnel plot for health‐related quality of life was asymmetrical, favouring no therapy, and the funnel plot for fatigue was roughly symmetrical. This hints at overall low risk of publication bias. Yoga did not appear to reduce depression (pooled SMD ‐0.13, 95% CI ‐0.31 to 0.05; seven studies, 496 participants; low‐quality evidence) or anxiety (pooled SMD ‐0.53, 95% CI ‐1.10 to 0.04; six studies, 346 participants; very low‐quality evidence) in the short term and had no medium‐term effects on health‐related quality of life (pooled SMD 0.10, 95% CI ‐0.23 to 0.42; two studies, 146 participants; low‐quality evidence) or fatigue (pooled SMD ‐0.04, 95% CI ‐0.36 to 0.29; two studies, 146 participants; low‐quality evidence). Investigators reported no serious adverse events.

Four studies that compared yoga versus psychosocial/educational interventions provided moderate‐quality evidence indicating that yoga can reduce depression (pooled SMD ‐2.29, 95% CI ‐3.97 to ‐0.61; four studies, 226 participants), anxiety (pooled SMD ‐2.21, 95% CI ‐3.90 to ‐0.52; three studies, 195 participants) and fatigue (pooled SMD ‐0.90, 95% CI ‐1.31 to ‐0.50; two studies, 106 participants) in the short term. Very low‐quality evidence showed no short‐term effects on health‐related quality of life (pooled SMD 0.81, 95% CI ‐0.50 to 2.12; two studies, 153 participants) or sleep disturbances (pooled SMD ‐0.21, 95% CI ‐0.76 to 0.34; two studies, 119 participants). No trial adequately reported safety‐related data.

Three studies that compared yoga versus exercise presented very low‐quality evidence showing no short‐term effects on health‐related quality of life (pooled SMD ‐0.04, 95% CI ‐0.30 to 0.23; three studies, 233 participants) or fatigue (pooled SMD ‐0.21, 95% CI ‐0.66 to 0.25; three studies, 233 participants); no trial provided safety‐related data.

Authors’ conclusions

Moderate‐quality evidence supports the recommendation of yoga as a supportive intervention for improving health‐related quality of life and reducing fatigue and sleep disturbances when compared with no therapy, as well as for reducing depression, anxiety and fatigue, when compared with psychosocial/educational interventions. Very low‐quality evidence suggests that yoga might be as effective as other exercise interventions and might be used as an alternative to other exercise programmes.


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