A focus on feeling good about yourself is always a good goal, and the more often a patient does things that are good for her, the better she feels. So it is with yoga for breast cancer survivors. A newly published study, the largest ever on the medical benefits of yoga, provides clinical evidence that practicing Hatha yoga can diminish inflammation and reduce fatigue in breast cancer survivors—and these results can be achieved in as short a time as 3 months. Furthermore, the investigators found that the more often the women practiced yoga, the more effective it was.1 Given that chronic inflammation contributes to such health-related issues as type 2 diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer disease, coronary heart disease, and age-related decline, controlling or reversing it can have wide-ranging benefits.

Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, professor of psychiatry and psychology at The Ohio State University, in Columbus, is lead author of the study.1 Kiecolt-Glaser is also an investigator at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research, both also in Columbus.

SELECTION CRITERIA AND STUDY METHODOLOGY

The study was a randomized, controlled clinical trial that lasted 5 years, and comprised 200 participants ranging in age from 27 years to 76 years. The investigators chose women whose breast cancer treatments were completed before the study began. They also chose women whose cancer stage ranged between 0 and IIIa, and whose treatments were different, as well. Kiecolt-Glaser explained that the wide range in variables was deliberate so the study results could apply to a broad population of cancer survivors.


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The investigators were concerned with how practicing yoga affects inflammation, cancer-related fatigue, depression, sleep quality, energy, and vitality among women who survived breast cancer. The effects were measured using scores from standard assessment tools for fatigue, depression, and overall health, and blood tests, all obtained at baseline, at the immediate conclusion of a 12-week treatment period, and 3 months after completing treatment.

Results were assessed via the Multidimensional Fatigue Symptom Inventory-Short Form (MFSI-SF), the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale (CES-D), and the vitality scale from the Medical Outcomes Study 36-item short form (SF-36). Blood tests evaluated lipopolysaccharide-stimulated production of proinflammatory cytokines interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), and interleukin-1β (IL-1β).

The women were divided into groups of four to 20 women. Each group attended two 90-minute yoga sessions per week for 12 weeks. If a participant missed a session, the instructor called her to follow up. The women also practiced their yoga poses at home, and kept a log of their classes attended and home practice times for each week. None of the women had practiced yoga prior to participating in the study, and all groups were instructed in identical yoga poses.

The researchers also included a wait-list control group. At the conclusion of the 12-week treatment, the control group was offered the yoga program.