Fight Breast Cancer-Related Fatigue With Yoga

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Yoga PoseWhile there is a lot of visibility and awareness surrounding breast cancer, the disease continues to strike thousands of women. In fact, in 2008, more than a quarter of a million new cases were diagnosed.

But the news isn’t all bad. Five-year survival rates among women with localized breast cancer are at an all-time high of 98%. With more and more cancer survivors, many physicians and researchers are now focusing on long-term outcomes and symptoms related to breast cancer, and key among these is fatigue.

The Physical and Emotional Drain of Breast Cancer

Exhaustion or fatigue is considered to be one of the most common and debilitating effects of breast cancer.[1] It is understandable that exhaustion frequently accompanies cancer treatments, but few people realize that nearly one-third of breast cancer survivors continue to experience moderate to severe fatigue 12 months or longer after treatment.[2]

The fatigue is often all-encompassing and not alleviated by rest. It can negatively impact a woman’s job, home life, social interaction and basic quality of life.

Fortunately, exercise has been demonstrated to help reduce fatigue among cancer patients. And one form of exercise — yoga — has been shown to significantly help ease persistent fatigue in cancer survivors.

Based on this, researchers from UCLA looked at one particular form of yoga to determine if it could alleviate fatigue in breast cancer survivors specifically.[3]

Therapeutic Poses Reduce Fatigue

Researchers asked 12 non-smoking women aged 45 to 65 who had originally been diagnosed with Stage 0–II breast cancer to take a 90-minute yoga class twice a week for 12 weeks. None of the women had taken yoga regularly in the past.

The researchers focused on Iyengar yoga for the practice. Iyengar yoga is a form of the more common Hatha yoga. It uses a combination of specific poses, or asanas, and breathing techniques. Iyengar yoga also utilizes props such as straps, blocks, blankets, etc., to help the practitioner get into and hold a pose without concern for stress or tension on the body.

Researchers found that, after 12 weeks of practicing yoga, the women experienced a significant improvement in fatigue, with the average score on the Fatigue Symptom Inventory going from an average of 6.3 (out of 10) down to 2.7. The women also experienced significant improvements in both mood and pain.

Best of all, improvements were maintained in all three areas for three months after the yoga intervention.

Researchers concluded, “These results support the acceptability of this intervention and suggest that it may have beneficial effects on persistent post-treatment fatigue.”

Grab Your Mat!

If you or someone you know is a breast cancer survivor, encourage them to give yoga a try. Better yet, show the ultimate support and join them!

Most health centers offer yoga classes, and more and more yoga studios are opening every day. If you prefer an at-home practice, there is a wide variety of yoga books and DVDs that you can purchase. Just be sure to have at least two or three “live” instructor sessions first to make sure you are doing the poses correctly and safely.

[1] Jacobsen, PB and Stein, K Is fatigue a long-term side effect of breast cancer treatment? Cancer Control. 1999;6(3):256–63.

[2] Bowe, JE, et al. Fatigue in breast cancer survivors: occurrence, correlates, and impact on quality of life. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2000;18(4):743–53.

[3] Bower, JE et al. Yoga for persistent fatigue in breast cancer survivors: Results of a pilot study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. Epub 2011 Jan 13.

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