Improve Physical and Psychological Well-Being in Head and Neck Cancer Survivors with Yoga
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Many people living with cancer find a sense of peace participating in yoga, an ancient practice combining breathing, relaxation and meditation exercises. Those that practice yoga may find their quality of life improve and gain a renewed sense of belonging.” – CancerCare
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. These feeling can result from changes in body image, changes to family and work roles, feelings of grief at these losses, and physical symptoms such as pain, nausea, or fatigue. People might also fear death, suffering, pain, or all the unknown things that lie ahead. So, 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.
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. Yoga practice is a form of mindfulness training that has been shown to be beneficial for cancer patients. Patients recovering from surgery for head and neck cancer often face substantial musculoskeletal impairments especially in the jaw, neck, shoulders, and chest. Yoga practice, then may be especially helpful for these patients as it combines the benefits of a mindfulness practice with those of a gentle exercise.
In today’s Research News article “Feasibility and Preliminary Efficacy of Tailored Yoga in Survivors of Head and Neck Cancer: A Pilot Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6142084/ ), Adair and colleagues recruited adult survivors of head and neck cancer who were at least 3 months post-treatment. They were randomly assigned to either be on a wait list or receive Hatha yoga training, including breathing exercises, meditation, relaxation, and poses adapted to the needs of the patient. Yoga practice occurred for 90 minutes for 8 weeks 3 times per week for the first 4 weeks and 2 times a week for the second 4 weeks. They were also encouraged to practice at home. They were measured before, during, and after treatment for range of motion, posture, head and neck symptoms, pain, anxiety, depression, and quality of life. They also completed a questionnaire regarding the feasibility and acceptability of the yoga practice.
They found that there were no adverse events and there was very high compliance with both the guided and home practice sessions and the participants found the practice to be highly satisfactory. Hence, the technique appears to be feasible for a larger study. But, they still were able to document efficacy. They found in comparison to baseline and the wait-list group that there were significant improvements in range of motion, especially in the shoulder region, and decreases in both anxiety and pain.
This was a pilot study that was designed to simply determine feasibility for a larger trial. But, it was still able to demonstrate that the tailored yoga practice produced significant improvements in the physical and psychological well-being of the survivors of head and neck cancer. Hence, tailored yoga practice may well be a safe and effective treatment reducing the suffering and improving the lives of head and neck cancer patients.
So, improve physical and psychological well-being in head and neck cancer survivors with yoga.
“Yoga for cancer patients—what better way to manage anxiety, gain strength, increase flexibility, and create feelings of well-being. A growing body of research points to the potential of yoga for supporting cancer patients, both during and after treatment.” – Tari Prinster
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Adair, M., Murphy, B., Yarlagadda, S., Deng, J., Dietrich, M. S., & Ridner, S. H. (2018). Feasibility and Preliminary Efficacy of Tailored Yoga in Survivors of Head and Neck Cancer: A Pilot Study. Integrative cancer therapies, 17(3), 774-784.
Purpose: Treatment for head and neck cancer (HNC) results in long-term toxicities and increased physical and psychosocial survivor burden. There are a limited number of treatments for these late effects. Yoga postures, breath work, relaxation, and meditation, may improve these late effects. The purpose of this study was to examine the feasibility of a tailored yoga program in HNC survivors and obtain preliminary efficacy data. Methods: This was a randomized wait-list control study of yoga-naive HNC survivors who were >3 months post–cancer treatment. Baseline data were collected. Participants were randomized to either an 8-week hatha yoga intervention group or a wait-list group. Feasibility and efficacy data were collected. At 4 and 8 weeks, patients underwent a repeat assessment of health. Wait-list control group participants were offered the yoga program after data collection. Descriptive statistics evaluated feasibility. Mixed effects general linear models were used to generate estimates of the efficacy outcomes. Results: Seventy-three individuals were screened and 40 were eligible. All eligible individuals consented and enrolled. Five of the intervention group discontinued early and none in the wait-list control group. Feasibility was affirmed as participants were recruited and retained in the study, there were no adverse events, fidelity to protocol was demonstrated, and satisfaction rates were high. Efficacy measures indicated potential benefit for shoulder range of motion (d = 0.57-0.86, P < .05), pain (d = 0.67-0.90, P ≤ .005), and anxiety (d = 0.59, P = .015). Conclusion: A tailored hatha yoga program is feasible and potentially efficacious for HNC survivors. Preliminary data supports further investigation of yoga in this population is needed.