Qigong could reduce depression in patients with breast cancer undergoing radiation

CURE, Spring 2013, Volume 12, Issue 1

A recent study indicates that patients with breast cancer undergoing radiation treatment may benefit from practicing qigong.

In a recent study published in Cancer, the Chinese practice of qigong improved quality of life in women with breast cancer receiving radiation therapy. Ninety-six women at a cancer center in Shanghai were randomly assigned to sessions of qigong over the course of the 5-6 weeks of radiation treatment or to a waitlist group. Women who previously regularly practiced qigong or tai chi (a related form of exercise) were not included in the study.

Qigong has a multifaceted approach and combines mindfulness, meditation, breathing techniques and movement with the goal of balancing a person’s energy (qi) to promote better health. Participants in the study attended 40-minute sessions with an instructor five times a week and were given an instructional DVD and encouraged to practice on their own when they did not meet with the instructor.

Participants answered a questionnaire about their quality of life at several points throughout the study: before starting radiation, during treatment, at the end of treatment, one month after and three months after the end of treatment. Most of the women stayed with the qigong program, with approximately 65 percent attending at least 80 percent of the sessions.

The study indicated that practicing qigong may help alleviate symptoms of depression in women with breast cancer undergoing radiation therapy, especially in those who had more depressive symptoms at the outset of treatment. The women with elevated depressive symptoms who participated in qigong experienced lower depression, less fatigue and better overall quality of life compared with the group on the waitlist. Almost all of the improvements were seen after treatment, which means qigong could help with the treatment recovery process.

Although these findings are similar to previous research about qigong, further research is needed in a more diverse population and to rule out any bias toward qigong the participants might have had (expectations about qigong or social support while in the trial influencing the outcome).—Lindsay Ray contributed to this report.