Study of Breast Cancer Patients Is First to Evaluate Yoga's Quality-of-Life Benefits Among Ethnically Diverse Population

September 6, 2007 - (BRONX, NY) - Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University have demonstrated that yoga can benefit ethnic minority breast cancer survivors -primarily African-Americans and Hispanics - as well as women living in underserved communities. The study corroborates previous research among largely Caucasian populations, showing that yoga can maintain or improve quality of life in a variety of ways for women with breast cancer. The findings appear in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

"Overall, we saw that yoga had its greatest effect on the social functioning of these women," says the study''s lead author, Dr. Alyson Moadel, an assistant professor of epidemiology and population health at Einstein.

The study examined the impact of yoga on overall quality of life (including fatigue, psychological distress, and spiritual well-being) among an ethnically diverse sample of breast cancer patients from the underserved urban community of Bronx, NY. The women in general had lower-than-average levels of quality of life at the outset of the study.

During the 12-week study period, the researchers compared quality of life measures between two groups--84 women with early-stage breast cancer who took a weekly yoga class and 44 women who did not take yoga. (Approximately half of the women were undergoing chemotherapy during the study period, while the remainder had either completed treatment or did not require it.) Women in the yoga intervention group were led in a gentle, seated form of yoga based on Integral Hatha yoga techniques incorporating stretching, breathing exercises and meditation, provided in both English and Spanish.

Significantly more women in the non-yoga group experienced a worsening of social well-being compared with women in the yoga intervention group (13% vs. 2%). While yoga did not improve social well-being, it seems to have offered social support that may help to counter the effects of loneliness and isolation, which are commonly experienced after a diagnosis of cancer.

''''This is noteworthy, since social support has been associated with promoting quality of life, preventive health behavior, and even cancer survival," says Dr. Moadel. "Although other measures such as physical and emotional well-being, fatigue, and mood did not differ significantly between the groups, we believe that the impact and timing of chemotherapy treatment may have obscured the benefits of yoga on these quality-of-life measures. This was corroborated by a separate analysis of yoga participants not on chemotherapy, who experienced a greater range of benefits--including improvements in mood emotional well-being, and overall quality of life--compared with similar patients not taking yoga."

When asked which aspects of yoga were most helpful, one 47-year-old African American participant noted, "Definitely the deep breathing, relaxation and focusing on the body and on what''''s working in the body and not on the cancer." A 52-year-old Hispanic woman summed up her experience saying, "I see things in a different light. Seeing people in the same situation as me has strengthened me because I see how they deal. Going to yoga helps me relax and forget my problems..."

Dr. Moadel notes that this was the first systematic study of yoga''s impact on breast cancer survivors who are ethnic minorities. "Our study showed that yoga was well-received by minority women and has the potential to help many of them who have breast cancer," adds Dr. Moadel, who also is director of the Psychosocial Oncology Program of the Albert Einstein Cancer Center.

Other Einstein researchers involved in the study include Drs. Chirag Shah, Joseph Sparano, Judith Wylie-Rosett, Melanie Harris, Sapana Patel, and Charles Hall. The Einstein research team is now looking at yoga's impact on patients and survivors of cancers of the breast, colon, and lung.

The study was supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the Langeloth Foundation.