Yoga Decreases Stress for Patients Undergoing Radiation Therapy

May 31, 2012 Providence Regional Cancer System Southwest Washington

A recent study by MD Anderson in Texas revealed that patients undergoing treatment for breast cancer benefit from participating in the practice of yoga.

Here are the facts:

  • 163 women
  • Average age = 52 years
  • Diagnosed with breast cancer ranging from early onset to stage three
  • Actively undergoing radiation therapy

Each woman was randomly assigned to one of three groups:

  • Yoga: one-hour sessions, three times a week during six-weeks of radiation therapy
  • Simple stretching: one-hour sessions, three times a week during six-weeks of radiation therapy
  • No instruction in either

One month after each woman completed radiation therapy she was asked to report on her health and well-being. The same questions were asked three and six months after therapy. In addition, each woman was tested to measure heart functions and stress hormone levels.

Both the women in the yoga and stretching groups reported less fatigue than the non-exercise group.

Additionally, the women who studied yoga during their six-week radiation therapy reported, “greater benefits to physical functioning and general health and were more likely to perceive positive life changes from their cancer experience than either [group]” Source. 

The yoga group also benefited from a steep decline throughout the day in the stress hormone cortisol. Why does this matter? An increase in cortisol prepares your body for potential flight or fight from danger; it is released during times of stress, and its benefits are only for short term release. Extensive release of cortisol for prolonged periods of time can result in alteration of bodily functions, impairment of the immune system, and alterations in the reproductive systems. (see “What is yoga and how can it help me”)

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