For women having breast cancer in the process of radiation therapy, yoga provides unique benefits other than reducing fatigue. Researchers revealed that although fatigue had been counteracted with basic stretching exercises, individuals who took part in yoga exercises in which controlled meditation, breathing, as well as relaxation techniques were integrated into their treatment plan had better ability to participate in their day to day activities, improved regulation of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as general improved health. Women from the yoga group had also been better prepared to find significance from the cancer experience.
The research also looked at the benefits of yoga in cancer patients by making a comparison of their experience with that of individuals in a control group who incorporated into their lives basic stretching exercises. Combining body and mind practices which are part of yoga have enormous potential over and above the benefits of simple stretching to help individuals manage the physical and psychosocial difficulties linked to cancer treatment as well as life after cancer.
For the study, 191 stage 0 to 3 breast cancer patients were randomized to 1 of 3 groups: yoga, basic stretching, or neither. Individuals from the stretching and yoga groups went to sessions especially structured for patients with breast cancer for 1 hour, 3 days per week during their 6 weeks of radiation treatment.
Individuals were requested to document their quality of life, which included levels of depression and fatigue, their day to day functioning and to assess the ability to find significance in the cancer experience. Samples of saliva were collected and electrocardiogram tests were performed at the start of the study, end of treatment, and at 1, 3 and 6 months after treatment.
Those women that practiced yoga had the sharpest decrease in cortisol levels throughout the day, suggesting that yoga was able to help with the regulation of this stress hormone. This is especially important as higher cortisol levels all through the day have been associated with worse outcomes in breast cancer.
Also, only those women from the stretching and yoga groups documented a reduction in fatigue after finishing radiation treatment. At 1, 3 and 6 months following radiation therapy, those women that practiced yoga throughout the treatment period documented greater benefits to general health and physical functioning. The women from the yoga group were also more likely to find significance from the cancer experience compared to the other groups.