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By: M. Patrick

Women going through treatment for breast cancer felt better when they tried yoga, according to one of the first scientific studies of its kind.

“Our belief is something as simple and brief as a short (yoga) program would be very useful” at combating side effects from cancer treatment, said Lorenzo Cohen, a psychologist who led the pilot study.

Yoga incorporates meditation, relaxation, imagery, controlled breathing, stretching and physical movements. Although the study was small and preliminary, it’s one of the few to try to rigorously measure the benefits of this form of exercise, Cohen said.

Researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center focused on 61 women who had surgery for breast cancer and now were getting six weeks of radiation treatment. Thirty women were assigned to a test group that took twice-a-week yoga classes. The others did not.

At the end of six weeks, study participants filled out detailed questionnaires grading their ability to lift groceries, walk a mile and perform other physical activities. They also were asked about feelings of fatigue, their sense of well-being and other aspects of their quality of life.

Their scores were converted to a scale that ranged from 0 to 100. The researchers found the yoga group consistently had higher scores in almost every area. It was most pronounced in physical function – the yoga group had a mean score of about 82, compared with 69 for the other group.

Participants said they were in better general health, were less fatigued and had fewer problems with daytime sleepiness. But the researchers found no differences between the groups in measurements of depression or anxiety.

The researchers drew blood and took saliva samples in an effort to measure the participants’ immune system function and stress levels, but those results are not finished yet, said Cohen, who presented the results at a medical conference in Atlanta held by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

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