Consistent practice of an Iyengar yoga routine helped breast cancer survivors reduce fatigue and improve mood and quality of life in a pilot study published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2011;doi:10.1155/2011/623168). Persistent fatigue that includes physical, mental and emotional exhaustion is an ongoing challenge for up to one-third of breast cancer survivors for months or even years after medical treatment is over. Since little research has been done on treatments for cancer-related fatigue, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, undertook a pilot study to evaluate the feasibility and efficacy of a yoga intervention.
Investigators enrolled 12 women aged 45–65 who were survivors of breast cancer with no recurrence. Subjects participated twice a week for 12 weeks in 90-minute Iyengar yoga classes that included postures and breathing exercises specifically designed for breast cancer survivors. The researchers assessed fatigue levels and mood, sleep, pain, health-related quality of life and physical function at the beginning and end of the intervention and 3 months later. One participant did not complete the program.
Data analysis showed a significant improvement in fatigue scores, which was maintained at the 3-month follow-up. Subjects also improved in physical function, mood and quality of life. One participant commented, “[I have] more energy, fatigue later rather than sooner, feel better in general, feel stronger.” Another noted that, “There’s been enough progress, subtle and incremental, to believe that I can get much better.”
Limitations of the study included its very small size and the lack of a control group. Also, expectations might have impacted the outcome, since subjects knew that the yoga program was designed to increase energy. Study authors are in the process of conducting a larger randomized controlled trial to address some of these issues. To learn more about the ongoing study, go to www.semel.ucla.edu/cousins/research-project/iyengar-yoga-breast-cancer-survivors-persistent-fatigue.