The importance of viewing a patient's mind-body balance as an interwoven unit - one that needs to be treated in an holistic way - has been highlighted by a new study, It looked into the benefits of yoga for those undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
The research - from the MD Anderson Cancer Center, at the University of Texas - showed that women practicing both the meditative and physical aspects of yoga, had better health, lower stress, and an improved attitude, compared to those just undertaking simple stretching. The full results will be discussed by the team lead, Lorenzo Cohen, at the 47th annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, this June.
Radiation therapy for women who are battling breast cancer is stressful, both physically and mentally. Helping them to manage these stresses, throughout both the radiation treatment - and the recovery from it - has long been claimed to be a beneficial bonus of yoga. This study, believed to the largest of its kind, is part of an ongoing attempt to prove the efficacy of yoga in helping such patients to recover better, and to be more healthy.
In order to test this, over 160 woman suffering from breast cancer were assessed, over their treatment period, and in the 6 months after. They were split into three groups - one with no exercise program; another undertaking simple stretching exercises; and a third group using both the stretching and meditation components of yoga.
Regular monitoring throughout the period asked the women to report their well-being, sense of fatigue, and how they felt about their mood and quality of life. Saliva samples, and cardiograms were also used to check up on the participants' stress-levels and general good-health.
What the team found was that those women taking up either yoga, or simple stretching, showed lower levels of fatigue than those who didn't exercise at all. But those in the yoga group had the best overall health levels and saw their experience in a more positive light. They also had the largest falls in cortisol - an important stress hormone. Given that breast cancer patients are very susceptible to higher levels of stress hormone - which often results in worse outcomes for their disease – the reduced levels of cortisol seen is an important result.
Cohen said ''The combination of mind and body practices that are part of yoga clearly have tremendous potential to help patients manage the psychosocial and physical distress associated with treatment and life after cancer, beyond the benefits of simple stretching.'' Having now won a grant from the National Cancer Institute, his team are looking to extend their study - to try to pin down the processes by which yoga is helping to improve the lives of patients, going through the tribulations of cancer treatment.