Yoga May Benefit Men Undergoing Radiation for Prostate Cancer

Previous studies have shown the benefit yoga has for women with breast cancer, but a recent study also showed that the activity has potential benefits for men with prostate cancer as well.

Yoga is eliciting promising results for men with prostate cancer undergoing radiation therapy in a small, first-of-its-kind study conducted by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

This year alone more than 180,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in the United States, and while the benefits of yoga have been tested primarily in women with breast cancer, this study was the first to look at how practicing yoga could benefit men with prostate cancer.

“My patients teach me a lot about the side effects they can endure related to their prostate cancer,” says Neha Vapiwala, advisory dean, Perelman School of Medicine and associate professor of Radiation Oncology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “As they go through their cancer journey from diagnosis through treatment, we try to be mindful of the impact on quality of life.”

Side effects from prostate cancer and its treatment can include fatigue, urinary and erectile dysfunction, and decreased sex drive — in addition to the emotional toll cancer itself takes.

Therefore, Vapiwala decided to see how prostate cancer patients would fare with structured 75-minute yoga classes, twice per week, throughout the duration of their radiation treatment. Radiation treatments lasted anywhere from six to nine weeks, delivered five times per week. A total of 27 patients completed the feasibility study in full. One of the biggest accomplishments, according to Vapiwala, was actually getting men to commit to doing yoga.

“If you look across the country, reportedly less than seven percent of men older than 45 are doing yoga, , yet in our study of cancer patients we were able to recruit men that were in their 50s, 60s, 70s and older — and we were able to get them truly engaged in it,” says Vapiwala.

Traditional yoga classes focus on meditation and strengthening the body as a whole. However, the yoga poses in these classes also emphasized pelvic floor strength, which Vapiwala says could potentially play a role in mitigating some of the typical side effects seen in these men.

Overall, the study findings suggest a willingness to participate in yoga and a subsequent positive impact of it on patient-reported fatigue and overall quality of life.

“Those who did come really seemed to indicate that it was incredibly important to their sense of community and well-being,” says Vapiwala. “The patients had very favorable things to say during and after their participation in the study, but we don’t know if they would have fared just as well even if they didn’t do the yoga.”

This is why Vapiwala and her colleagues designed a randomized phase 2 study testing how yoga impacts patient-reported urinary function, sexual health and quality of life. These data are currently being evaluated by the team.

Patients in this phase practiced yoga for the same amount of time as those in the pilot study and filled out the same questionnaires. The difference this time around is that Vapiwala used a control group to compare results.

“We have theories [as to] why yoga promotes a sense of well-being, we have theories on how it might help with sexual health function, we have theories on how pelvic floor strength can help urinary control, but it’s critical to have more scientific explanations,” says Vapiwala.

Some of Vapiwala’s next steps include taking the data from the fatigue and sexual function aspect in the randomized study and adding blood and urine samples for correlative work in the basic science lab. Phase 2 findings should hopefully be completed by the end of July.