Improve Cancer-Related Symptoms in Cancer Survivors with Tai Chi

Improve Cancer-Related Symptoms in Cancer Survivors with Tai Chi


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


In terms of the evidence that’s out there and the scientific literature, practices such as tai chi have been found to help improve patients’ quality of life. There are some studies showing that these types of mind-body practices can also have an impact on physiological functioning, improving aspects of immune function and decreasing stress hormones.” – Lorenzo Cohen


Receiving a diagnosis of cancer has a huge impact on most people. Coping with the emotions and stress of a cancer diagnosis is a challenge and there are no simple treatments for these psychological sequelae of cancer diagnosis. 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. It is estimated that 15 million adults and children with a history of cancer are alive in the United States today. But, surviving cancer carries with it a number of problems. “Physical, emotional, and financial hardships often persist for years after diagnosis and treatment. Cancer survivors are also at greater risk for developing second cancers and other health conditions.” National Cancer Survivors Day.


Mindfulness training has been shown to help with cancer recovery and help to alleviate many of the residual physical and psychological symptoms, including stress,  sleep disturbance, and anxiety and depression. Tai Chi or Qigong practice has been shown to improve quality of life, reduce fatigue, and lower blood pressure and cortisol levels. They are very gentle and safe practices. The research is accumulating. So, it makes sense to take a step back and summarize what has been found in regard to Tai Chi practice for the treatment of cancer survivors.


In today’s Research News article “Tai Chi and Qigong for cancer-related symptoms and quality of life: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at:, Wayne and colleagues review, summarize, and perform a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of Tai Chi practice in relieving cancer-related symptoms in cancer survivors. They identified 22 published research studies that included a total of 1571 cancer survivors. 15 of the studies were randomized controlled trials investigating survivors of a variety of cancers including breast, prostate lymphoma, lung, and multiple cancers.


They report that in general the research studies demonstrated a significant reduction in fatigue, sleep difficulty, depression , and quality of life resulting from Tai Chi practice. No significant improvements in pain were observed. No adverse events were reported. Hence, the research suggests that Tai Chi practice is a safe and effective treatment for cancer-related symptoms in cancer survivors. Tai Chi practice appears to benefit the mental and physical health of the survivors.


The results of the published research strongly suggests that Tai Chi  practice should be routinely prescribed for survivors of cancer. Tai Chi is a gentle and safe mindfulness practice. It is appropriate for all ages including the elderly and for individuals with illnesses that limit their activities or range of motion. It is inexpensive to administer, can be performed in groups or alone, at home or in a facility, and can be quickly learned. In addition, it can be practiced in social groups. This can make it fun, improving the likelihood of long-term engagement in the practice. So, Tai Chi practice would appear to be an excellent gentle practice to improve the well-being of cancer survivors.


So, improve cancer-related symptoms in cancer survivors with Tai Chi.


“Tai chi does not treat the cancer itself. Research suggests that tai chi can help lower blood pressure, reduce stress, ease pain and stiffness and improve sleep. Small studies have shown that regular tai chi may help with depression and improve self-esteem. These studies have also suggested that regular practice of tai chi can improve quality of life.” – Canadian Cancer Society


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


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


Study Summary


Wayne, P. M., Lee, M. S., Novakowski, J., Osypiuk, K., Ligibel, J., Carlson, L. E., & Song, R. (2017). Tai Chi and Qigong for cancer-related symptoms and quality of life: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of cancer survivorship : research and practice, 12(2), 256–267. doi:10.1007/s11764-017-0665-5




Summarize and critically evaluate the effects of Tai Chi and Qigong (TCQ) mind-body exercises on symptoms and quality of life (QOL) in cancer survivors.


A systematic search in 4 electronic databases targeted randomized and non-randomized clinical studies evaluating TCQ for fatigue, sleep difficulty, depression, pain, and quality of life (QOL) in cancer patients, published through August 2016. Meta-analysis was used to estimate effect sizes (ES, Hedges’ g) and publication bias for randomized controlled trials (RCTs). Methodological bias in RCTs was assessed.


Our search identified 22 studies, including 15 RCTs that evaluated 1283 participants in total, 75% women. RCTs evaluated breast (n=7), prostate (n=2), lymphoma (n=1), lung (n=1), or combined (n=4) cancers. RCT comparison groups included active intervention (n=7), usual care (n=5), or both (n=3). Duration of TCQ training ranged from 3 to 12 weeks. Methodological bias was low in 12 studies and high in 3 studies. TCQ was associated with significant improvement in fatigue [ES=−0.53, p<.001], sleep difficulty [ES=−0.49, p=.018], depression [ES=−0.27, p=.001], and overall QOL [ES=0.33, p=.004]; a statistically non-significant trend was observed for pain [ES=−0.38, p=.136]. Random effects models were used for meta-analysis based on Q-test and I-squared criteria. Funnel plots suggest some degree of publication bias. Findings in non-randomized studies largely paralleled meta-analysis results.


Larger and methodologically sound trials with longer follow-up periods and appropriate comparison groups are needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn, and cancer- and symptom-specific recommendations can be made.


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