Researchers have put yoga to the scientific test for years, and now studying the effects on cancer treatment. The results so far have been impressive. The practice has been shown to lower risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, and hypertension.
Yoga can also help those who are already ill feel better. A new study suggests that doing yoga twice a week may improve quality of life for men being treated for prostate cancer and may help reduce the side effects of radiation, which include fatigue, sexual dysfunction, and urinary incontinence. The study, published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, and Physics, followed 50 men with prostate cancer as they underwent six to nine weeks of radiation therapy. Half of the men were assigned to attend two 75-minute yoga classes each week during their treatment.
At the beginning of the study, before radiation had started, men in both groups reported relatively low levels of fatigue. As treatment progressed, however, the men who didn’t take yoga had more fatigue—typical of the fourth or fifth week of a treatment course, the researchers say. However, for those who took yoga, fatigue dropped as the weeks went on. Overall, these men reported less fatigue and a better ability to go about their normal lives, compared to the group that didn’t do yoga. Lead author Dr. Neha Vapiwala, associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine stated, “Even with the additional time commitment, they felt a renewed sense of energy. It could be the physical activity, or it could be the social component and the fact that they’re doing something proactive for their health.”
Another common side effect among men undergoing radiation and androgen deprivation therapy is sexual dysfunction, which affects up to 85 percent of men during treatment. In this study, both groups started with erectile function scores of about 11 on a 25-point scale. Scores below 12 indicate moderate-to-severe dysfunction. Scores for the men who took yoga stayed about the same over the course of their treatment, while the scores of the non-yoga group declined even further. The men who took yoga also had improved or stable urinary function over the course of the study, while urinary function declined in those who didn’t.