Yoga Improves Quality of Life in Patients With Lung Cancer


Patients and their caregivers saw physical and emotional improvements after starting yoga.

While yoga was previously shown to reduce symptom burden in patients with breast cancer, researchers recently sought to find out if the practice would have the same effect on patients with lung cancer, who typically have more symptoms, including difficulty breathing, depression and fatigue.

The study, led by Kathrin Milbury, Ph.D., an assistant professor of cancer medicine in the Department of Palliative Care and Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, enrolled 26 pairs of patients with advanced lung cancer and their caregivers in 15 yoga sessions, each lasting an hour. On average, each pair attended about 12 sessions.

Another group was told that they were put on a wait list for yoga classes, and then used as the control group.

Each patient participating had advanced lung cancer that was unable to be removed surgically and was receiving chest radiation. Most were also undergoing chemotherapy.

The yoga therapy involved physical exercises, breathing exercises and meditation/guided imagery. According to Milbury, yoga could be a beneficial intervention for patients with cancer because not only is it gentle to begin with, but it can also be easily modified for each person’s needs and abilities. Since yoga emphasizes that participants connect with their breath, it can be especially beneficial to people with lung cancer, as many of them do encounter breathing problems.

“When comparing the yoga pairs with the control waitlist pairs, the researchers found that the patients who practiced yoga had significantly better physical function as assessed by the six-minute walking test … better stamina to perform work or daily activities, and improved mental health, while the caregivers who received yoga instruction had improvements in fatigue and stamina while working,” researchers reported in a press release.

Results of the six-minute walking test, where participants see how many meters they can walk in six minutes, showed that patients involved in the yoga intervention improved or plateaued over time, while, on average, those who were not in the yoga intervention saw a decline in how far they could walk in the allotted time.

Not only did the yoga intervention improve quality of life for both the patients and their caregivers, but it actually proved to be something that many of the participants looked forward to.

“The participants enjoyed the intervention, as it gave them a time away from cancer,” Milbury said. A report on this study will be presented at the 2017 Palliative and Supportive Care in Oncology Symposium, Oct. 27-28, in San Diego.

While Milbury noted that this was only a feasibility study, it did provide grounds for larger studies in the future, examining the benefit that yoga could offer to patients with lung cancer, now that it was proven that patients with advanced lung cancer are not too sick to participate in a yoga program.

“Overall, we were encouraged by the results,” Milbury said.

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