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older woman practicing yogaIn Brief: Yoga May Help Breast Cancer Patients

For women with breast cancer undergoing radiation treatment, yoga may help them control stress and go about their daily life, suggests a new study.

For the study, researchers randomly assigned approximately 160 women into one of three groups before they started treatment: yoga; simple stretching; or  waitlisted, the control group. Women in the yoga or stretching groups took hourly sessions three days a week throughout the six weeks of their treatment. The yoga included controlled breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques. Almost three quarters of them continued practicing yoga a month after treatment, and almost half kept going six months after treatment.

All the women answered questions about their daily functioning, sleep, fatigue and depression. Saliva samples were collected during the day both at the beginning and end of treatment, along with at three and six months afterwards.

At the end of treatment and one month afterwards, the women who practiced yoga had the steepest drop in their cortisol levels across the day. Cortisol is a stress hormone and there is some evidence it may play a role in tumor progression, the authors write. By the end of radiation treatment, the women in the yoga and stretching groups also reported less fatigue than the control group. And compared to the control group, the women who practiced yoga reported greater increases in physical functioning at both one and three months after treatment.

There were similar outcomes among all the groups for depression and sleep quality. The group differences were similar for general health reports.

Source: Kavita D. Chandwani et al. "Randomized, Controlled Trial of Yoga in Women With Breast Cancer Undergoing Radiotherapy." Journal of Clincial Oncology. Published ahead of print March 3, 2014.

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