Review of yoga therapy during cancer treatment

Abstract

Purpose

Reviews of yoga research that distinguish results of trials conducted during (versus after) cancer treatment are needed to guide future research and clinical practice. We therefore conducted a review of non-randomized studies and randomized controlled trials of yoga interventions for children and adults undergoing treatment for any cancer type.

Methods

Studies were identified via research databases and reference lists. Inclusion criteria were the following: (1) children or adults undergoing cancer treatment, (2) intervention stated as yoga or component of yoga, and (3) publication in English in peer-reviewed journals through October 2015. Exclusion criteria were the following: (1) samples receiving hormone therapy only, (2) interventions involving meditation only, and (3) yoga delivered within broader cancer recovery or mindfulness-based stress reduction programs.

Results

Results of non-randomized (adult n = 8, pediatric n = 4) and randomized controlled trials (adult n = 13, pediatric n = 0) conducted during cancer treatment are summarized separately by age group. Findings most consistently support improvement in psychological outcomes (e.g., depression, distress, anxiety). Several studies also found that yoga enhanced quality of life, though further investigation is needed to clarify domain-specific efficacy (e.g., physical, social, cancer-specific). Regarding physical and biomedical outcomes, evidence increasingly suggests that yoga ameliorates sleep and fatigue; additional research is needed to advance preliminary findings for other treatment sequelae and stress/immunity biomarkers.

Conclusions

Among adults undergoing cancer treatment, evidence supports recommending yoga for improving psychological outcomes, with potential for also improving physical symptoms. Evidence is insufficient to evaluate the efficacy of yoga in pediatric oncology. We describe suggestions for strengthening yoga research methodology to inform clinical practice guidelines.

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Acknowledgments

Dr. Addington is currently supported by NIH/NCI training grant CA193193 at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Partial support for Dr. Cohen was provided by the Richard E. Haynes Distinguished Professorship in Clinical Cancer Prevention. Dr. Sohl was supported by the National Center For Complementary & Integrative Health of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number K01AT008219. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Correspondence to Suzanne C. Danhauer.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Note: An earlier version of this manuscript was published in 2016 as a chapter in The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care by Handspring Publishing Limited.

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Danhauer, S.C., Addington, E.L., Sohl, S.J. et al. Review of yoga therapy during cancer treatment. Support Care Cancer 25, 1357–1372 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-016-3556-9

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Keywords

  • Yoga
  • Cancer
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Symptoms
  • Mind-body