MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

The purpose of this survey (the authors call it a ‘study’) was to evaluate the patient-perceived benefit of yoga for symptoms commonly experienced by breast cancer survivors.

A total of 1,049 breast cancer survivors who had self-reported use of yoga on a follow-up survey, in an ongoing prospective Mayo Clinic Breast Disease Registry (MCBDR), received an additional mailed yoga-focused survey asking about the impact of yoga on a variety of symptoms. Differences between pre-and post- scores were assessed using Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test.

802/1,049 (76%) of women who were approached to participate, consented and returned the survey. 507/802 (63%) reported use of yoga during and/or after their cancer diagnosis. The vast majority of respondents (89.4%) reported some symptomatic benefit from yoga. The most common symptoms that prompted the use of yoga were breast/chest wall pain, lymphedema, and anxiety. Only 9% of patients reported that they had been referred to yoga by a medical professional. While the greatest symptom improvement was reported with breast/chest wall pain and anxiety, significant improvement was also perceived in joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue, headache, quality of life, hot flashes, nausea/vomiting, depression, insomnia, lymphedema, and peripheral neuropathy, (all p-values <0.004).

The authors concluded that data supporting the use of yoga for symptom management after cancer are limited and typically focus on mental health. In this study, users of yoga often reported physical benefits as well as mental health benefits. Further prospective studies investigating the efficacy of yoga in survivorship are warranted.

I have little doubt that yoga is helpful during palliative and supportive cancer care (but all the more doubts that this new paper will further the reputation of research in this area). In fact, contrary to what the conclusions state, there is quite good evidence for this assumption:

  • A 2009 systematic review included 10 clinical trials. Its authors concluded that although some positive results were noted, variability across studies and methodological drawbacks limit the extent to which yoga can be deemed effective for managing cancer-related symptoms.
  • A 2017 systematic review with 25 clinical trials concluded that among adults undergoing cancer treatment, evidence supports recommending yoga for improving psychological outcomes, with potential for also improving physical symptoms. Evidence is insufficient to evaluate the efficacy of yoga in pediatric oncology.
  • A 2017 Cochrane review included 24 studies and found that moderate-quality evidence supports the recommendation of yoga as a supportive intervention for improving health-related quality of life and reducing fatigue and sleep disturbances when compared with no therapy, as well as for reducing depression, anxiety and fatigue, when compared with psychosocial/educational interventions. Very low-quality evidence suggests that yoga might be as effective as other exercise interventions and might be used as an alternative to other exercise programmes.[3]

So, why publish a paper like the one above?

Search me!

To be able to add one more publication to the authors’ lists?

And why would the journal editor go along with this nonsense?

Search me again!

No, hold on: Global Advances in Health and Medicine, the journal that carried the survey, is published in association with Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine & Health.

Yes, that explains a lot.

As I have pointed out several times before, surveys of this nature are like going into a Mac Donald’s and asking the customers whether they like Hamburgers. You might then also find that “the vast majority of respondents (89.4%) reported”… blah, blah, blah.

The title of the paper is ‘Real-World Experiences With Yoga on Cancer-Related Symptoms in Women With Breast Cancer‘.

 

 

 

PS

NOTE TO MYSELF: never touch a paper with ‘real-world experience’ in the title.

 

2 Responses to Real-World Experiences With Yoga on Cancer

  • “Further prospective studies investigating the efficacy of yoga in survivorship are warranted.”

    If so, perhaps the authors could outline the expected outcomes if such prospective studies were not carried out – and that would provide a control group.
    Bear in mind we are setting aside the undoubted benefit of yoga to help many folks ‘feel better’ – but this study was to identify the benefits of yoga on ‘physical benefits’. They should be subject to metrics.

    The authors can now do another study, with a control group, and expect to have the results published in a worthy journal.
    My guess: No difference from the group on whom studies were performed originally. Therefore:
    “Further prospective studies investigating the efficacy of yoga in survivorship are not warranted.”

    But perhaps the authors have never heard of confirmation bias.
    Sigh

  • Chest wall pain and lymphoedema are long-term problems following breast cancer treatment and are difficult to treat effectively. Many of the recent changes in the treatment of this disease are aimed at reducing the risk of these and other debilitating changes that persist long after the cancer itself has gone. If yoga helps people to cope with these distressing symptoms then I am in favour of it, even if the benefit is mainly psychological. However, I agree with you that this study doesn’t really tell us very much.

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