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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Special yoga classes can significantly improve the quality of life and well being of women with breast cancer patients -- particularly those who are not taking chemotherapy -- a new study shows.
A diverse group of low-income women participated in the study, Dr. Alyson B. Moadel of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York, noted in an interview with Reuters Health. "Our patients really enjoyed the yoga classes, it was very well received by them," she said. "It really fit in with their own cultural interests."
There is mounting evidence that yoga can improve quality of life in both healthy and chronically ill people, Moadel and her team point out in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, while quality of life may be particularly affected for cancer survivors who belong to ethnic minorities and other underserved minority populations.
To investigate whether yoga could help cancer patients and survivors feel better, the researchers randomly assigned 128 women to a 12-week yoga intervention or a wait list "control" group.
Classes were offered three times a week, and participants were urged to attend at least one class a week, and also instructed to do the exercises at home with the help of an audiotape. The Hatha yoga-based exercises had been developed especially for breast cancer patients by one of the study's authors, and were done while participants were either sitting in a chair or lying down.
During the course of the study, patients in the control group showed greater declines in well being than women in the yoga group. When the researchers omitted patients undergoing chemotherapy from their analysis, they found that the women who did yoga showed improvements in quality of life; greater emotional, social and spiritual well being; and less distress.
People often feel fatigued and sick while undergoing chemo, Moadel noted, which is likely why yoga didn't appear to be helpful for study participants on chemotherapy.
Just 69% of the women in the yoga group actually attended classes, and those who did attended an average of seven during the course of the study. Study participants had many demands to cope with, from medical and health issues to taking care of family members, Moadel noted, which may explain why many didn't make the classes.
Nevertheless, the women who did attend the classes enjoyed them, she added, and the more classes they attended, the more benefit they experienced.
Hospitals and cancer centers are increasingly offering yoga programs to cancer survivors, Moadel said, and interested people should contact local facilities or advocacy groups like the American Cancer Society to find out if there are yoga programs in their area. However, she cautioned that breast cancer survivors should talk with their doctor before starting an exercise program, and should only take classes specifically designed for them.
"I would not recommend a regular yoga class at a studio that is not geared or targeted to someone with cancer, particularly if they are undergoing treatment," Moadel said, noting that breast cancer patients frequently have arm and shoulder problems that could be aggravated by some exercises.
SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Oncology, October 1, 2007.