New Study: Yoga as an Alternative and Complementary Treatment for Cancer: A Systematic Review

A recent review study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine set out to determine the efficacy of yoga as an alternative and complimentary treatment option for cancer patients [1].

The paper reviewed a number of studies carried out between 2010 and 2012 – the results were pretty mixed.

In one randomized control study, the yoga group showed a significant increase in scores in a quality of life questionnaire compared to the control group [2]. It’s important to note however that trait anxiety, fatigue, sleep disturbances and depression remained stable over time between both groups.

Another study demonstrated that emotional well-being, fatigue and cortisol levels improved significantly with yoga compared to the control group [3].

Apparently the amount of yoga practice plays a role in improvements in quality of life scores. A further study found that participants who attended 24 or more yoga classes had statistically significant improvements versus the controls [4].

The review paper also looked at pre-test-post-test designed studies, which although are the least costly and easiest to carry out, need to perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt. They lack validity due to the absence of a control group for comparison.

One such study reported improvements in scores for pain, emotional level, sleep, social adaptation, physical skills, and energy levels with regular yoga practice [5].

An additional pre-test-post-test study reported similar significant results for depression and general health improvements, and these persisted during a three month follow up period [6].

Although there appears to be some positive results, let’s not get too carried away…

The review highlights a number of limitations to the studies mentioned; including small sample sizes, weak quantitative designs, mixed use of instruments, and a lack of theory based results.

Whilst there definitely seems to be some benefits to regular yoga practice, there’s yet to be any concrete evidence to support its use as a treatment option.

The paper concludes that “without additional rigorous studies comparing not only control groups, but also other alternative therapies; the true benefits of yoga, while promising, are still undetermined.”

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  1. Knowlden, A. (2013, November). Yoga as an alternative and complementary treatment for cancer. In 141st APHA Annual Meeting (November 2-November 6, 2013). APHA.
  2. Chandwani, K. D., Thornton, B., Perkins, G. H., Arun, B., Raghuram, N. V., Nagendra, H. R., … & Cohen, L. (2009). Yoga improves quality of life and benefit finding in women undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer. Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology8(2), 43-55.
  3. Banasik, J., Williams, H., Haberman, M., Blank, S. E., & Bendel, R. (2011). Effect of Iyengar yoga practice on fatigue and diurnal salivary cortisol concentration in breast cancer survivors. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners23(3), 135-142.
  4. Littman, A. J., Bertram, L. C., Ceballos, R., Ulrich, C. M., Ramaprasad, J., McGregor, B., & McTiernan, A. (2012). Randomized controlled pilot trial of yoga in overweight and obese breast cancer survivors: effects on quality of life and anthropometric measures. Supportive Care in Cancer20(2), 267-277.
  5. Ülger, Ö., & Yağlı, N. V. (2010). Effects of yoga on the quality of life in cancer patients. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice16(2), 60-63.
  6. Bower, J. E., Garet, D., Sternlieb, B., Ganz, P. A., Irwin, M. R., Olmstead, R., & Greendale, G. (2012). Yoga for persistent fatigue in breast cancer survivors.Cancer118(15), 3766-3775.
Luke Jones
Luke Jones is a mover, blogger and wellness enthusiast. He spends his time exploring and sharing ideas in mindful movement, healthy living and adventure.

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