According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 240,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. Once diagnosed, patients undergo customized treatment plans that typically incorporate some type of chemo or radiation therapy. The side effects from these cancer therapies dramatically reduce quality of life and well-being. Studies indicate that 21-85% of prostate cancer patients encounter erectile dysfunction…24% of patients suffer through urinary incontinence…and 60-90% of prostate cancer patients experience severe fatigue from radiation therapy. Cancer-related fatigue isn’t “normal” fatigue that can be cured with more rest and sleep. It’s debilitating, and studies have shown that this type of fatigue hijacks quality of life to an even greater degree than pain does!
In an attempt to uncover effective therapies for lessening the side effects of radiation, the American Cancer Society funded a study conducted by University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine researchers. Results showed that yoga may help alleviate the side effects of radiation among prostate cancer patients being treated with radiation therapy.
Keep Stable with Yoga
This study is one of the first to see if yoga may help alleviate the side effects of radiation in men undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. Previous research indicates that yoga helps improve the health and quality of life of cancer patients, but the majority of this research has focused on breast cancer patients. Why the gender split? National statistics indicate that women are more likely to participate in yoga than men are. In fact, 72% of yoga practitioners are women. Age factors in as well. Only 18% of yogis and yoginis are over age 55, and the median age for a prostate cancer diagnosis is 66.
Researchers conducted experiments from May 2013 through June 2014. Of 68 approved prostate cancer patients, 48 agreed to participate in a 75-minute yoga class 2 times a week for 6-9 weeks while undergoing outpatient radiation therapy. Thirty patients completed the study. Researchers used a self-assessment questionnaire to determine yoga’s effect on overall quality of life, cancer-related fatigue, and prevalence of sexual and erectile dysfunction. Results showed that side effects remained stable throughout treatment among the men who participated in the yoga therapy program.
Lead researcher Neha Vapiwala, MD, an associate professor in the department of Radiation Oncology at PSOM and Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, explains: “Data have consistently shown declines in these important measures among prostate cancer patients undergoing cancer therapy without any structured fitness interventions, so the stable scores seen with our yoga program are really good news.”
Researchers theorize that the benefits of yoga are supported by both physiologic data that shows the ability of the movement therapy to help reduce cancer symptoms such as treatment-related fatigue, and to strengthen pelvic floor muscles and boost blood flow, which helps improve sexual function and urinary incontinence.
“There may also be a psychosocial benefit that derives from participation in a group fitness activity that incorporates meditation and promotes overall healthiness. And all of this ultimately improves general quality of life,” Vapiwala added.