Women with breast cancer had improved quality of life by practicing yoga Wiki Commons

Practicing yoga improves the quality of life in women suffering from breast cancer and undergoing radiation therapy.

The exercise, which involves breathing, stretching and meditation techniques, helps to regulate stress hormones and improves the quality of life for women with breast cancer, said researchers from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre.

Published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, findings showed women who incorporated yoga into their treatment plan were better able to engage in their daily activities, had generally improved health and could control cortisol – a stress hormone – more effectively.

Women who practiced yoga were also better equipped to find meaning in their illness. Previously, researchers had found yoga helps breast cancer patients by reducing fatigue and inflammation.

Lead author Lorenzo Cohen said: "Combining mind and body practices that are part of yoga clearly have tremendous potential to help patients manage the psychosocial and physical difficulties associated with treatment and life after cancer, beyond the benefits of simple stretching."

"Teaching patients a mind-body technique like yoga as a coping skill can make the transition less difficult."

Lead author Lorenzo Cohen

Researchers placed 191 women with breast cancer into three groups – one that practiced yoga, one that did simple stretching, and another that did no yoga or stretching.

Participants reported on their quality of life, levels of fatigue and depression, daily functioning and ability to assess and find meaning with their illness. Women in the yoga group had the steepest decline in their cortisol levels, the team found.

After completing treatment, only the women in the yoga group reported a reduction in fatigue, while this group also reported greater benefits during treatment.

The researcher's preliminary findings were first reported in 2011 and their study is part of an ongoing effort to scientifically validate the use of yoga to treat cancer patients. The study was conducted with India's largest yoga research institute in Bangalore - Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana.

Cohen believes yoga helps cancer patients both during and after treatment: "The transition from active therapy back to everyday life can be very stressful as patients no longer receive the same level of medical care and attention. Teaching patients a mind-body technique like yoga as a coping skill can make the transition less difficult," he said.