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Last Updated: 05/09/13

New Research Suggests Yoga May Help with Fatigue-Related Symptoms in Breast Cancer Survivors

female doing yoga meditative pose

A common side effect of cancer treatment is fatigue: approximately one-third of cancer patients experience persistent fatigue. According to a new research study*, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH) at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (Project Number: U01-AT003682), yoga may help breast cancer survivors deal with fatigue.

This study compared the effects of two different interventions on cancer-related fatigue in a small number of breast cancer survivors. In this experiment, breast cancer survivors were randomized to receive an Iyengar yoga or heath education intervention for 12 weeks. Iyengar yoga is a traditional form of Hatha yoga and uses different poses and breathing techniques for various medical conditions. The health education classes consisted of lectures on topics of interest to breast cancer survivors (such as psychosocial issues in cancer survivorship) and discussions. All study participants completed fatigue-related questionnaires before starting their intervention, immediately after their intervention, and 3 months following their intervention.

At the start of the study, participants from both groups believed that their intervention would help improve fatigue symptoms. The participants in the yoga group reported significant decreases in fatigue severity and increases in vigor from the start of the intervention to the 3-month follow up compared to participants in the health education group. In addition, the participants who had completed the yoga intervention were significantly more confident in their ability to manage fatigue than were participants in the health education group. Although participants from both groups reported a decline in depressive symptoms during the course of the study, larger reductions were reported by subjects in the yoga group. These findings suggest that a specialized yoga intervention may help improve persistent fatigue symptoms in breast cancer survivors.

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* Bower JE, Garet D, Sternlieb B, Ganz PA, Irwin MR, Olmstead R, Greendale G. Yoga for persistent fatigue in breast cancer survivors: A randomized controlled trial. Cancer. 2011 Dec 16. doi: 10.1002/cncr.26702. [Epub ahead of print]