Yoga May Improve Quality of Life, Survival in Patients With Non-Metastatic Breast Cancer

Improvements may not be seen right away, but patients with non-metastatic breast cancer should stay compliant to practicing yoga to possibly improve quality of life, according to an expert.

Yoga combined with conventional exercises improved quality of life as well as survival in patients with non-metastatic breast cancer, according to recent study results.

At a median follow-up of 80 months, results of a randomized trial — which were presented at the 2022 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium — demonstrated an 80% disease-free survival rate (the measure of time after treatment during which no sign of cancer is found) with yoga and conventional exercises in patients with non-metastatic breast cancer (426 patients). This is compared with 76.7% for conventional exercises only (424 patients).

“The impact of yoga on breast cancer survival is hypothesized to be through improvement of quality of life (psychological response including helplessness/hopelessness, fighting spirit, depression and fatigue), change in stress responses, compliance to treatment (and) reduction in weight,” said Dr. Nita S. Nair, lead author on the study and professor and consultant surgeon at Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai, India, in an interview with CURE®.

Overall survival (time from diagnosis or treatment start when patients are alive) was 85.4% and 83.1%, respectively.

“Disease-free and overall survival are surely important, as they suggest treatments reduce the risk of disease recurring or of a woman dying of disease,” Nair said. “But all these treatments are often associated with side effects, which hamper the quality of life while on treatment and cause long-term issues like fatigue also.”

Moreover, 53% of women practicing yoga showed an improvement in quality of life from the start of the study compared to 47% in the conventional exercises group.

Additional results demonstrated that physical and emotional function were improved and sustained at 54 months with yoga. And fatigue, pain, appetite loss, arm symptoms and systemic therapy side effects were reduced at six to nine months.

After adjuvant therapy, median fatigue score was lower in patients practicing yoga compared to those on conventional exercises only. Likewise, median scores of severe fatigue were 5 in the yoga group and 6 in conventional exercises at the start of the study. These were reduced to 3 after one year in both groups.

The scores were then reduced to 0 in the yoga group at 2 years, which was sustained until 4 years, whereas the median score of fatigue stayed at 3 with conventional exercises.

Patients in the yoga group also experienced less serve pain, specifically in the breast wall. In addition, there were no differences in spirituality changes but patients who practiced yoga experience lessdeterioration compared to the start of the study.

“Treatment of breast cancer has considerably improved survival at the cost of side effects and quality of life,” Nair said. “Simple techniques of yoga show a significant improvement in some domains of quality of life, with a significant and sustained reduction in fatigue even on follow up. Adding yoga to routine treatment may help patients cope with cancer and survivorship issues better, with a possible benefit to survival also.”

She explained that patients should start with meditation, breathing exercises and arm stretches while on treatment. And during follow-up, they can start with simple yoga poses that their body can sustain — under the guidance of a yoga instructor.

“Simple interventions like yoga bring disciple of mind and body and teach us to master mind over body,” she said. “The benefits may not be visible immediately, but staying compliant shows long-term benefits which surely impact quality of life and recovery to normal after cancer treatment.”

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