Breast Cancer Survivors Benefited from Yoga

Yoga improved energy and inflammation in breast cancer survivors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many breast cancer survivors report decreases in energy that interfere with daily activities. Yoga can be a gentle exercise that could boost energy and reduce fatigue in these survivors.

When cancer patients reduce their activity levels due to their disease, they become more likely to continue to be less active. Previous studies have found a higher risk of early death in breast cancer survivors with low activity levels. People who are less active have been shown to have higher levels of inflammation in their bodies.

Because exercise can reduce fatigue and inflammation, a group of researchers conducted a study to determine if yoga — an exercise gentle enough for most people — could produce the same effects in breast cancer survivors.

This research team found that hatha yoga reduced fatigue and inflammation and increased energy in breast cancer survivors.

"Ask your oncologist before you start a yoga program."

Janice K. Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD from Ohio State University led the research team. The study involved 200 breast cancer survivors who had had stage 0-IIIa breast cancer. Any cancer treatments occurred at least two months before the study started. The women ranged in age from 27 to 76.

The women were split into two groups. One group participated in 90-minute long hatha yoga classes twice a week for 12 weeks. The second group was a control group who did not take yoga classes.

The research team collected the participants’ responses to questions about their fatigue level, their amount of energy and depression. Proteins associated with inflammation in their blood were measured. Surveys and blood tests were done at the start of the study and again three months later at the end of the study.

At the start of the study, there was no statistical difference in fatigue or depression between the yoga and the control groups.

At the three-month time point in the study, the average fatigue score reported by the subjects in the yoga group was 5.4, and the control group’s average score was 12.4. This represented significantly less fatigue in the group who practiced yoga for 12 weeks.

The energy score reported by the yoga group at three months was higher than the control group, at 58.7 compared to 52.3.

The depression symptoms reported by the two groups were not significantly different.

Three inflammatory proteins in the blood were significantly lower at three months in the yoga group than in the control group.

Two women in the yoga group reported shoulder and/or back problems that may have been due to the yoga.

The research team noted two possible limitations of their study. It is possible that the support from belonging to a group caused some of the benefits seen in the yoga group, and might not all be attributed to the exercise itself. And if the study participants in the yoga group were not fatigued or depressed at the beginning of the study, small improvements would have been difficult to see.

The authors stated that, “If yoga dampens or limits fatigue and inflammation, then regular practice could have substantial health benefits.”

This study was published in the January issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The National Institute for Health provided funding for this research.

The authors did not disclose any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
January 25, 2014
Last Updated:
March 12, 2015