About one in every eight women will develop breast cancer during their lifetimes. About 40,000 women die from breast cancer every year in the US. Radiation is frequently used as a component of the treatment package for cancer with nearly two thirds of all patients receiving radiation treatment. Although it has been shown to be effective in treating the cancer it has very difficult side effects as patients experience increased pain, difficulty sleeping, much greater fatigue, problems thinking clearly and paying attention, and physical issues such as heart problems and nausea. All of this leads to a marked decrease in the patients’ quality of life.
Hence it is important to develop methods to assist the cancer patients in coping with the treatment side effects. One promising technique is mindfulness training. It has been found to be helpful in coping with cancer especially in dealing with the psychological consequences of a cancer diagnosis.
In today’s Research News article another contemplative practice, yoga, is evaluated as an adjunctive treatment. In the study “Randomized, Controlled Trial of Yoga in Women with Breast Cancer Undergoing Radiotherapy”
Chandwani and colleagues compare six weeks of yoga practice or stretching exercises to control patients who did not receive yoga or stretching but were placed on a waiting list to receive future treatment. They found that the breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy who practiced yoga had improved quality of life including clinically significant improvements in overall physical health and physical functioning, significantly greater decreases in fatigue, and positive effects on stress hormones.
These are encouraging results that suggest that the practice of yoga may be beneficial for breast cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment. How can yoga practice be so helpful? One way that yoga may help is that it is a form of exercise and exercise has been shown to decrease fatigue in cancer patients. Also yoga can improve coping with cancer treatment by relaxing and calming the mind. Worry and rumination about the treatment side effects can act to amplify these effects. Yoga practice by increasing mindfulness may reduce rumination and worry and thereby reduce the experience of the side effects and improve quality of life. Finally, the practice of yoga may make the patients feel that they can still function physically and that they can be active participants in their treatment and recovery helping them to feel more in control of their health and lives.
“I’m happy to tell you that having been through surgery and chemotherapy and radiation, breast cancer is officially behind me. I feel absolutely great and I am raring to go.” – Carly Fiorina
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies