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Yoga: A Complementary Therapy in Cancer Care

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By Lana Maciel, MD Anderson Staff Writer

FOH_yogawoman.jpgOne body, one spirit, one mind. Reaching this peaceful balance is a state most people seek when practicing the ancient Indian philosophy of yoga. It's a disciplined spiritual practice that has recently played a more integral role in health care settings and through doctors' recommendations.

Originally perceived as a way to reach enlightenment, yoga integrates meditation, relaxation, physical postures and breathing techniques that many believe can improve one's fitness and health.

As a mind-body medicine practice, yoga has been known to reduce blood pressure, increase lung capacity, reduce stress and improve overall flexibility, physical fitness, mood and sense of well-being.

Such benefits are why some doctors are recommending yoga to their cancer patients during and after treatment. It is believed to help ease side effects of fatigue, depression and anxiety that often follow cancer diagnosis and treatment.

A closer look at yoga's benefits

In previous studies, cancer patients participating in yoga programs have reported reduced sleep disturbances, less fatigue and a better ability to engage in daily activities such as walk up a flight of stairs or carry a bag of groceries compared to those who did not do yoga.

Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor and director of MD Anderson's Integrative Medicine Program, recently received a $4.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to conduct a Phase III clinical trial studying the effects of yoga as part of breast cancer therapy.

"Research has shown that yoga and other types of mind-body practices, incorporated into the standard of care, can help improve patient outcomes, particularly quality of life," Cohen says. "However, none have become standard of care or are on the clinical care pathway for cancer patients. This clinical trial will allow us to definitively determine the benefit of incorporating yoga into a treatment plan for women with breast cancer undergoing radiation therapy."

Nearly 16 million Americans practice yoga today, a number that has increased dramatically in recent years. Its increased popularity and proven health benefits are a strong indication that yoga could soon play an integral role in cancer care.

MD Anderson resources:
Integrative Medicine Program


Additional resources:
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (National Cancer Institute)


1 Comment

I had my second bout with breast cancer in 2003 and had to have a double mastectomy. I had tram-flap reconstruction which failed so had numerous surgeries to remove the dead tissue so had lots of scarring. After I had finished treatments I knew I needed to do something for my body. Since I have back problems I can't do arobics so turned to yoga and have been doing it ever since. It has proved to be very beneficial.

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