Yoga Improves Chronic Fatigue in Breast Cancer Survivors

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YOGA IMPROVES CHRONIC FATIGUE IN BREAST CANCER SURVIVORS

Breast cancer remains the most common serious cancer to afflict women, and the second most common cause of cancer-related death in women (second only to lung cancer).  In 2012, most patients with breast cancer will undergo surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hormonal therapy as standard treatments for their cancer, and as many as 1 in 3 breast cancer survivors will go on to experience chronic fatigue after completing their extensive therapy for this common disease.

Many interventions have been proposed for chronic post-treatment fatigue in breast cancer survivors, but none of these interventions have been subjected to the scrutiny of high quality, prospective, randomized, controlled clinical research studies to validate their effectiveness.  However, a newly published prospective, randomized, controlled clinical research study suggests that lyengar yoga may be an effective intervention for chronic fatigue following breast cancer treatment.  This new study appears in the current issue of the journal Cancer.

Thirty-one female breast cancer survivors with chronic fatigue were randomized to one of two groups in this study.  Sixteen of these women were randomized to a yoga instruction group for 12 weeks (the “experimental” group), while the other 15 women were randomized to 12 weeks of health education classes (the “control” group).  At the end of the 12-week study period, and again 3 months later, the two groups of women were assessed for changes in fatigue levels (compared to baseline, at the time of their entry into the study); as well as changes in vigor, depressive symptoms, sleep quality, perceived stress levels, and physical performance status.

Following analysis of the data, the authors of this study concluded that 12 weeks of yoga training significantly improved the severity of chronic post-treatment fatigue in breast cancer survivors, when compared to 12 weeks of health education instruction.  (Importantly, this improvement in fatigue levels was maintained for at least 3 months after completion of 12 weeks of yoga classes.)  Additionally, the yoga group experienced significant improvements in physical vigor, when compared to the health education group of women.  At the same time, both groups of women reported improvements in depressive symptoms and perceived stress at the end of this clinical study, while no significant improvements in sleep quality or physical performance status were noted in either group of study participants.

This study is the first prospective, randomized, controlled clinical research study to show that a 12-week intervention with yoga training leads to significant and sustained improvements in chronic fatigue and physical vigor among women who have completed multidisciplinary therapy for breast cancer.  Based upon the findings of this small but important clinical study, breast cancer survivors who are struggling with post-treatment chronic fatigue might want to check out a yoga studio in their neighborhood!


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Disclaimer:  As always, my advice to readers is to seek the advice of your physician before making any significant changes in medications, diet, or level of physical activity


Dr. Wascher is an oncologic surgeon, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, oncology consultant, and a widely published author


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