Yoga and Cancer A1
Cancer is a serious and often deadly disease, for which there is not always a cure. While there are many treatments used in Western medicine today, there are also other, alternative options that are being discovered. People who have cancer are often willing to explore just about any option they can find in order to have the opportunity to beat the disease. Getting the news that one is in remission is among the best things a person can hear, but there is still the fear that the cancer might come back. There are also the other side effects that come along with cancer, like fatigue, nausea, and other sickness from the chemotherapy and medications used to treat the disease A3 (Sariego, 2010). Being able to help reduce bodily inflammation, fatigue, and other problems can go a long way toward keeping a cancer patient's spirits up and helping him or her continue to fight. In the case of breast cancer, there are also fears of losing part of what makes someone female, which can be psychologically difficult (Buchholz, 2009).
With numerous concerns faced by someone with cancer, there are many ways to address those concerns, and that can benefit patients a great deal. In the United States, chemotherapy and radiation are still the most common ways to treat cancer (Sariego, 2010). However, some patients are also beginning to look for other treatment options. These are used in conjunction with standard treatments in many cases, but they can also be used in lieu of more common options. For this particular paper, the focus will be on the practice of yoga and how it affects breast cancer patients. The goal is not to show yoga as a cure, but to indicate how it has been shown to provide pain relief and other health benefits (De Michelis, 2004). In the interest of the value of alternative medicine in general, different types of alternative medicine will be touched on in their relationship to helping cancer patients.
A4 The Origins and Use of Yoga
Yoga originated in ancient India, and is a practice that is mental, spiritual, and physical (De Michelis, 2004). The poses used in yoga are designed to make a person feel better and be more connected with self and spirit (De Michelis, 2004). They are also designed to improve physical conditioning, as they will stretch the body and improve muscle tone and circulation (Streeter, 2010). There are traditions and variations of yoga in many different religions, but yoga is not focused on religion in the sense that one has to belong to a particular religion to practice it. Because it does not require any type of conversion or any type of specific religious belief, one can keep his or her religious beliefs (or lack thereof) and still do yoga without any spiritual conflict. It was not until late in the 19th Century that yoga was introduced to the Western world, and much later than that before it became an accepted practice that many people get involved with (Streeter, 2010). Studies have shown mental health and musculo-skeletal improvements in people who do yoga regularly, with these benefits becoming more apparent over time (De Michelis, 2004; Streeter, 2010).
One of the most significant discoveries related to yoga is that studies are beginning to show more benefits of it. Lower back pain has been improved through the use of yoga, and those who have asthma have lessened their symptoms in some cases (Streeter, 2010). Additionally, there are benefits for those who have anxiety and depression, and people with heart disease can also use yoga A5 (Streeter, 2010). The breathing, stretching, and meditation of yoga promotes calming feelings throughout the body and can lower blood pressure, which is helpful to people suffering from a lot of medical conditions (Streeter, 2010). Yoga may also help stave off some medical problems before they occur, and has been studied in treating schizophrenia (Streeter, 2010). There is also a belief that yoga improves cognitive functioning, possibly because of increased activity and blood flow (De Michelis, 2004). While not conclusive, many studies into yoga's benefits are promising.
Breast cancer originates only in breast tissue, and is most typically found in women (Sariego, 2010). A6 However, men do have breast tissue, and as such they are capable of getting breast cancer (Buchholz, 2009). While rare, it is not impossible. The most common place to find breast cancer is in the ducts and the lobules that supply milk, but cancer can appear anywhere in the breast (Sariego, 2010). There are screening options in place to catch breast cancer early, but they are controversial in nature (Buchholz, 2009). The same is true for some of the treatments, and for women who choose preventative treatment such as having healthy breasts removed to avoid cancer in the future (Sariego, 2010). This makes sense for specific women who have a gene abnormality that makes their chance of getting breast cancer much higher than normal, but is not realistic for the majority of women (Sariego, 2010). Surgery is the most common treatment, where one or both breasts are removed (Buchholz, 2009). Reconstruction is sometimes done at the same time, but not all women elect to do so.
Surgery is usually followed by radiation and/or chemotherapy, just to ensure the best possible outcome and the highest likelihood that the cancer will not return. The treatments for breast cancer can leave behind anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue, some of which will fade over time and some of which may be permanent in some women (Sariego, 2010). This is worthy of consideration, because there are limited ways in which women may avoid or reduce these types of difficulties. One of the ways they may be able to reduce the fatigue they feel is through exercise, but that can be difficult for women who are tired or depressed, or who have pain. Vigorous exercise may also not be possible because of health issues, especially shortly after surgery and during or shortly after treatments like chemotherapy (Buchholz, 2009). This is where yoga enters the picture, as new study information is indicating that it may reduce the fatigue often felt by survivors of breast cancer (Goodman, 2014).
A7 Yoga's Effect in Cancer Patients
Alternative options like yoga are not specifically designed to treat cancer, but one study has recently shown that there may be help and hope for the fatigue breast cancer survivors often experience, and that yoga could provide a significant number of benefits in that regard (Goodman, 2014). The study was conducted on women between the age of 27 and 76 (Goodman, 2014). A total of 200 women participated, and they had to be at least two months past the date of their last treatment and otherwise healthy, along with having been treated for breast cancer within the three years prior to the study (Goodman, 2014). The women were assigned to two separate groups, and that was done randomly in order to ensure there were no favorites or biases about which women went into which group (Goodman, 2014). One group was put on a waiting list to start a yoga class, and no further action was taken with that group (Goodman, 2014). The other group took a yoga class for 90 minutes per class, twice per week, for three months A8 (Goodman, 2014).
At the end of the classes many women went back to their pre-yoga levels of activity, in that they gradually stopped taking the class (Goodman, 2014). Whether the women eventually stopped yoga or not did not seem to matter, as the benefits they received from the class remained with them (Goodman, 2014). Even at the six-month mark, the women who had taken the yoga classes reported 60 percent less fatigue and had 13 to 20 percent lower levels of inflammation than the women who were only placed on the waiting list (Goodman, 2014). Because the groups were assigned randomly, the improvement in the yoga group cannot be based on particular factors that were specific to those women – other than the fact that they were all taking yoga (Goodman, 2014). The lower levels of fatigue in the women who took yoga classes were believed to have originated from the women simply getting more sleep (Goodman, 2014). The majority of women who took the yoga class reported that they were sleeping better and longer (Goodman, 2014). This was very important, as significant numbers of cancer survivors have trouble sleeping, even months or years after treatment has ended (Sariego, 2010; Buchholz, 2009).
Future Plans for Alternative Medicine and Cancer Research
One of the most important considerations regarding the study of yoga for the treatment of fatigue in breast cancer patients is that it opens the door for other alternative medicine options. These can include things like acupuncture, herbs and supplements, meditation, and other types of medical options that are not considered to be part of Western medicine (Complementary, 2014). Many of these alternative choices have been used in the East for thousands of years, and quite a number of them have been very successful for certain types of conditions (Complementary, 2014). Because of the success of alternative medicine in Eastern culture, Western medicine has been forced to take a look at the options. In some case there has been a grudging acknowledgment that alternative medicine may provide some benefit. In other cases, doctors and other medical professionals have been insistent about the "fact" that none of the alternative options actually help people with medical conditions. That fact, however, is not a fact at all.
Those who are interested in alternative treatments continue to explore them for cancer and other diseases, as medicine advances in that direction. Not all alternative treatments will be found to be helpful, but the same is true with treatments that are offered in Western medicine. It is trial and error when it comes to nearly any medical treatment, and some patients simply respond better to specific treatments than others. With options for Western and alternative medicine, a patient with breast cancer or other health problems has more treatment plans available to him or her, and a better chance of locating something that will actually be beneficial for healing (Complementary, 2014). Treatments that are not effective in that patient should not be so easily discarded, as they may benefit another patient.
Yoga is not a cure for cancer, and not even a treatment for it. However, using yoga can be very beneficial for people who have had cancer and who are recovering from it. A significant percentage of people who survive cancer go on to have trouble with fatigue, generally because they do not sleep as well. This can be from stress and pain, but also simply from the damage done to their bodies from the cancer and from the chemotherapy and radiation they have undertaken in order to attempt to survive. Being able to sleep better can be very important, because it can mitigate the effects of fatigue and can otherwise help a person feel better and have more energy. With that in mind, yoga has the potential to help cancer survivors sleep better, which will improve their lives in many ways. Additionally, there are other benefits to yoga no matter what kind of medical problem a person has, so the practice is something that a number of people could use for better health.
As yoga and other alternative medicine practices become more commonplace in Western society, it is likely that patients and their doctors will be more open to working together to find any and all solutions that are helpful. Whether this involves only Western medicine options, only alternative choices, or a combination of the two, will be dependent on the patient and what would work best for his or her needs. With each patient, there are different things to consider. Part of that is the belief of the patient in alternative medicine, as not every patient thinks it is a good option. That is also true of doctors, who are not all in agreement as to whether alternative medicine is an acceptable way of treating patients. For cancer patients or survivors that are interested in alternative medicine options, it is important to find a doctor who is also open to these types of treatments. That can require some searching, but can be worth taking the time to do for the potential benefits received.
De Michelis, E. (2004). A history of modern yoga. London: Continuum.
Streeter, C. C., et al. (2010). Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: A randomized controlled MRS study. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 16(11): 1145-1150
Goodman, B. (2014). Yoga may reduce fatigue in Breast Cancer Survivors. WebMD via HealthDay News. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/breast-cancer/news/20140127/yoga-may-reduce-fatigue-inflammation-in-breast-cancer-survivors
Sariego, J. (2010). Breast cancer in the young patient. The American Surgeon, 76(12): 1397–1401.
Buchholz, T.A. (2009). Radiation therapy for early-stage breast cancer after breast-conserving surgery. New England Journal of Medicine, 360(1): 63–70.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2014). National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/cam