Academic journal article International Journal of Yoga

Yoga into Cancer Care: A Review of the Evidence-Based Research

Academic journal article International Journal of Yoga

Yoga into Cancer Care: A Review of the Evidence-Based Research

Article excerpt

Byline: Ram. Agarwal, Adi. Maroko-Afek

To cope with cancer and its treatment-related side effects and toxicities, people are increasingly using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Consequently, integrative oncology, which combines conventional therapies and evidence-based CAM practices, is an emerging discipline in cancer care. The use of yoga as a CAM is proving to be beneficial and increasingly gaining popularity. An electronic database search (PubMed), through December 15, 2016, revealed 138 relevant clinical trials (single-armed, nonrandomized, and randomized controlled trials) on the use of yoga in cancer patients. A total of 10,660 cancer patients from 20 countries were recruited in these studies. Regardless of some methodological deficiencies, most of the studies reported that yoga improved the physical and psychological symptoms, quality of life, and markers of immunity of the patients, providing a strong support for yoga's integration into conventional cancer care. This review article presents the published clinical research on the prevalence of yoga's use in cancer patients so that oncologists, researchers, and the patients are aware of the evidence supporting the use of this relatively safe modality in cancer care.


Cancer is one of the most feared diseases. Starting from the diagnosis of cancer, its progression (i.e., metastasis to bone and organs), adverse effects of its treatment (chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery), and diagnostic procedures (biopsies and radiological diagnostic scans) can cause physical, psychological, and emotional problems affecting patients' quality of life (QOL).[1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7],[8],[9]

The statistics of new cancer cases and cancer-related mortality is scary. According to the 2016 report of the American Cancer Society, more than 1.6 million new cancer cases were diagnosed each year,[10] about 32.6 million people were living with cancer worldwide, and the number has been increasing with time. It is estimated that about 33% of women and 50% of men would develop cancer during their lifetime; about 15% of all deaths worldwide would be attributed to cancer, about 77 million people worldwide would die of cancer, and it would surpass heart diseases.[10],[11]

With advances in diagnostic methods and improved treatment strategies, it is expected that the number of cancer survivors will continue to increase and pose a great challenge to health care system.[12],[13],[14],[15],[16],[17]

Despite the availability of powerful technology and strong and targeted medicines, the desired therapeutic success in cancer care and other chronic diseases remains an elusive goal for the modern medicine. In addition, the conventional medical interventions are expensive and associated with undesirable toxicities. The patients, therefore, may turn to nonconventional therapies, e.g., complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).[18] Increasing interest in CAM and demands from the public, medical professionals, media, and government agencies had led the National Institute of Health in 1998 to establish the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) to explore those practices that are not currently considered to be a part of conventional (or main stream) medicine practiced, especially by MDs in the USA such as (i) whole medical systems (Ayurveda, Chinese traditional medicine, homeopathy, and naturopathy); (ii) mind-body medicine (yoga, meditation, relaxation, visualization/imagery, cognitive therapy, aromatherapy, dance, healing touch, hypnosis, music, art, prayer, sleep promotion, support groups, etc.); (iii) biologically based practices (dietary supplements, herbal products, shark cartilage, etc.); (iv) manipulative and body-based practices: acupressure, acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, osteopathic manipulation; and (v) energy medicines (Qi gong, Reiki, therapeutic touch, electromagnetic fields, and alternating-current or direct-current fields). …

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