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Qi Gong May Improve Quality of Life in Breast Cancer Patients

Research shows that qi gong, an ancient Eastern exercise that incorporates rhythmic breathing and movement, may help patients dealing with cancer.

BY Elizabeth Whittington
PUBLISHED June 19, 2013

Several studies on integrative therapies, such as acupuncture and yoga, suggest they may help reduce certain side effects and increase well-being in patients with cancer. A recent study published in the journal Cancer examined the mind-body practice of qi gong and found the technique could improve quality of life in breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy.

Qi gong, an ancient Eastern exercise, incorporates rhythmic breathing and movement. The Chinese phrase is loosely translated to mean life force (or energy) and practice (or skill). 

The MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and the Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center in Shanghai conducted the joint study, following 96 women in China who were being treated with radiation therapy for non-metastatic breast cancer. The women were selected at random to participate in five 40-minute sessions of qi gong each week during treatment.

The women were asked to rate their quality of life before, during and after radiation therapy, including their fatigue, depression and sleep issues. Radiation therapy lasted about five or six weeks, and all of the women in the study had some form of surgery (lumpectomy or mastectomy) prior to starting radiation. 

Over time, women in the qi gong group reported less depression and fatigue, and better overall quality of life. Sleep appeared to be unaffected. The authors noted that women who reported symptoms of depression early in treatment were particularly helped by qi gong. 

One difficulty with the study should be noted: It lacked a blind control group. Because the women understood they were participating in a qi gong study, it could have boosted expectations of participants in both groups. A follow-up study is being planned to determine whether the benefits received were driven by imagined expectations. Also, because the study was at a single site in China, it’s unknown whether women in the U.S. would react to qi gong in the same way.

Previous studies examining qi gong in other health populations demonstrated that this technique can reduce falls in elderly patients, and improve blood pressure and bone mineral density, most likely due to its balance exercises and light physical activity.

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