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Last Updated: 05/09/13

Alleviating Lingering Side Effects for
Cancer Survivors

yoga tree pose

For cancer survivors, the side effects of their treatment and disease may continue long after they’ve been diagnosed as cancer-free. Some common treatment-related side effects, which can impact a survivor’s quality of life include fatigue, sleep disruptions, and anxiety or other mood disorders. Through a NCI Mentored Career Development Award, Karen Mustian, Ph.D, M.P.H, is working at the University of Rochester Cancer Center (URCC) to research how yoga may help cancer survivors deal with persistent side effects, such as sleep and mood problems. As part of the NCI Community Clinical Oncology Program (CCOP) Research Base network, the URCC receives funding from NCI to design, develop, and conduct cancer prevention and control clinical trials with a community-based focus.

Dr. Mustian and her colleagues enrolled 410 cancer survivors (primarily female breast cancer survivors), who ranged from 2 to 24 months post adjuvant treatment, into one of two arms of a clinical trial to learn about the effects of yoga on cancer-related side effects. The women were randomized into standard care or twice-weekly, 75 minute yoga sessions. None of the participants had practiced yoga for three months prior to their participation in the study. The yoga group utilized the University of Rochester Yoga for Cancer Survivors (YOCAS) program which includes breathing exercises, gentle Hatha and restorative yoga postures, and meditation. Results showed that participants in the yoga intervention showed improved anxiety, mood, and sleep quality while their fatigue lessened. These research findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in June, 2011*. This work showcases the effects that yoga can have on the quality of life of cancer survivors and helps demonstrate techniques health care providers can recommend to help patients alleviate common cancer side effects.

The CCOP Research Base grant and the Mentored Career Development Award support many types of research on the community level. Dr. Mustian and colleagues have also studied the effects of tai chi, Polarity Therapy, and exercise on fatigue and quality of life in cancer survivors. For more information about NCI-supported research by Dr. Mustian and the URCC CCOP Research Base, view information in the NIH RePORTER database: and