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Yoga has been proven to be good for the body and mind; a consistent practice can positively affect blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, metabolism, body temperature, and more. The physical effects often lead to a reduction in stress and improved sense of overall well-being.

According to the National Institutes of Health, yoga may be beneficial when used along with conventional medical treatments to help relieve cancer-related symptoms. In the last decade, researchers have sought to find out whether yoga can be of a particular benefit to cancer patients, specifically breast cancer patients and survivors. While further study is needed, the evidence suggests that, for women with breast cancer, yoga can improve quality of life, reduce stress, and lessen side effects like fatigue.

In a study by The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, women who practiced yoga reported less fatigue and improved overall health, including lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Some research suggests that high cortisol levels may be linked to poorer prognosis in women with breast cancer, making this a particularly notable finding. In another study conducted by Ohio State University, patients also experienced a 20% reduction of inflammation in the body.

Beyond Breast Cancer

Most recently, yoga has been shown to benefit prostate cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy in a preliminary study of 27 men who attended 75-minute yoga classes twice a week. According to Dr. Neha Vapiwala, an associate professor in the radiation oncology department of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, “Data [has] consistently shown declines in [...] important measures [like quality of life and side effect management] among prostate cancer patients undergoing cancer therapy without any structured fitness interventions.”

The study, which was funded by the American Cancer Society and presented at the Society of Integrative Oncology’s international conference in Boston, indicates that yoga may help reduce cancer and treatment-related fatigue and increase blood flow.

While the study is preliminary, it opens up discourse regarding yoga and its potential benefit to cancer patients more broadly, whereas the focus has been mostly on breast cancer patients.

A Complementary Option

While further study is needed to determine the physiological effects of yoga on cancer-related side effects, many cancer patients and survivors use complementary therapies like yoga to help manage the emotional and psychological side effects that result from a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Of course, as with any lifestyle or diet change, be sure to consult with your doctor before beginning a yoga practice. With their guidance, you can decide on the type and frequency of yoga that may be most beneficial to your cancer treatment plan.