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Qigong May Help Breast Cancer Patients Undergoing Radiation Therapy

Researchers have found that qigong, an ancient Chinese mind-body practice, improves quality of life in women under going radiotherapy for breast cancer.

| January 28, 2013 | Health

AsianScientist (Jan. 28, 2013) – Researchers in the United States, have found that qigong, an ancient Chinese mind-body practice, reduces depressive symptoms and improves quality of life in women under going radiotherapy for breast cancer.

The study, published in the journal Cancer, is the first to examine qigong in patients actively receiving radiation therapy and include a follow-up period to assess benefits over time.

“We were also particularly interested to see if qigong would benefit patients experiencing depressive symptoms at the start of treatment,” said Lorenzo Cohen, professor in The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Departments of General Oncology and Behavioral Science and director of the Integrative Medicine Program.

“It is important for cancer patients to manage stress because it can have a profoundly negative effect on biological systems and inflammatory profiles.”

For the trial, Cohen and his colleagues enrolled 96 women with stage 1-3 breast cancer from Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center in Shanghai, China. 49 patients were randomized to a qigong group consisting of five 40-minute classes each week during their five- to six-week course of radiation therapy, while 47 women comprised a wait list control group receiving the standard of care.

The program incorporated a modified version of Chinese medical qigong consisting of synchronizing one’s breath with various exercises. As a practice, qigong dates back more than 4,000 years when it was used across Asia to support spiritual health and prevent disease.

Participants in both groups completed assessments at the beginning, middle, and end of radiation therapy and then one and three months later. Different aspects of quality of life were measured including depressive symptoms, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and overall quality of life.

Patients in the qigong group reported a steady decline in depressive symptom scores beginning at the end of radiation therapy with a mean score of 12.3, through the three month post-radiation follow-up with a score of 9.5. No changes were noted in the control group over time.

The study also found qigong was especially helpful for women reporting high baseline depressive symptoms, Cohen said.

“Women with high depressive symptoms in the control group reported the worst levels of depressive symptoms, fatigue, and overall quality of life that were significantly improved for the women in the qigong group,” Cohen said.

As the benefits of qigong were largely observed after treatment concluded, researchers suggest qigong may prevent a delayed symptom burden, or that the benefits may take time to be realized.

The authors note several limitations to the study, including the absence of an active control group making it difficult to rule out whether or not the effects of qigong were influenced by a patient’s expectations or simply being a light exercise. Additionally, the homogeneity of the group, Chinese women at a single site, limits the ability of applying the results to other populations.

According to the authors, the findings support other previously reported trials examining qigong benefits, but are too preliminary to offer clinical recommendations.

The article can be found at: Chen Z et al. (2013) Qigong improves quality of life in women undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer.

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Source: MD Anderson; Photo: scook48227/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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