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Yoga may prompt a drop in cortisol levels among breast cancer sufferers

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Breast cancer sufferers may find some relief from yoga, a recent study says. 

Led by Professor Lorenzo Cohen, a research team from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has found that practicing yoga can regulate stress hormones associated with breast cancer, likely improving quality of life for sufferers. In some instances, it was even linked to survival. 

Published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Randomized, Controlled Trial of Yoga in Women With Breast Cancer Undergoing Radiotherapy looked at the effects of yoga combined with radiotherapy in 191 women with stages 0 to 3 breast cancer. The study's participants were observed before they started radiotherapy and ultimately divided into three groups - one that took up yoga three times a week over six weeks, one group that underwent basic stretching three days a week, and the last group acting as the control for the same time period. The women were then asked to report how they felt, taking fatigue, sleep quality, and depression symptoms into account. Further, levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, were measured at one, three, and six month intervals via electrocardiogram (ECG) tests and saliva samples. The women who participated in the yoga sessions experienced the largest drop in cortisol levels. 

Interestingly, the same women also reported less fatigue, as well as the experience of 'finding meaning' in their illness - neither of which the other groups reported. The researchers are particularly encouraged by evidence of slowed cortisol release, as increased levels of the hormone throughout the day has previously been linked to adverse breast cancer outcomes. 

Professor Cohen also pointed to the emotional benefits of a yoga regime for breast cancer sufferers. "Combining mind and body practices that are part of yoga clearly have tremendous potential to help patients manage the psychosocial and physical difficulties associated with treatment and life after cancer, beyond the benefits of simple stretching," he said.  

However, the researchers have noted that the findings are not concrete, though further studies will take place. Approval has been granted by the National Cancer Institute for researchers to further observe the effects of yoga during radiation and after radiation treatments. 

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