While prostate cancer is very treatable, men undergoing treatment have a long road of chemotherapy, radiation and possible surgery ahead of them. Not to mention the side effects like fatigue, urinary incontinence and sexual dysfunction. Quality of life is affected in a big way, which is why healthcare providers are always researching options for making the side effects to cancer treatment slightly more tolerable. The exciting news is that time and time again, yoga is proving to be helpful in nearly all aspects of cancer treatment.
A recent study by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that a regular yoga practice could ease common side effects of radiation as well as improve the day-to-day aspects of living with prostate cancer. Men undergoing radiation therapy for prostate cancer were invited to join an intensive yoga program–twice weekly classes of 75 minutes each. Nearly 40 percent of the 45 participants had to drop out of the study due to scheduling conflicts with their appointments and the yoga classes. At the end of the session, participants were asked a series of quality of life questions.
The men reported improvement in their fatigue levels throughout the program. Cancer fatigue is different than fatigue in healthy individuals because it is not relieved by sleep or rest. The researchers found that urinary and sexual health remained stable (did not improve or worsen), which is a remarkable improvement as these side effects almost always worsen as radiation treatment continues.
Another study examining the effects of yoga in men with prostate cancer at the University of Calgary found that not only did yoga improve their treatment side effects, but that yoga is a feasible treatment option for this population. The yoga class offered had a high adherence rate, and most of the men continued a regular home yoga practice on their own once the class concluded. This will be helpful for hospital administrators to know because it shows that offering yoga classes to patients with cancer can be both effective and well-attended.
These results are very promising, and more research is needed in the area of yoga and men’s health. There is an abundance of research on yoga in women with breast cancer which shows the same trends. Yoga has been associated with improving both the physical side effects of breast cancer treatment, as well as the emotional, improving stress levels and perceived happiness. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles reported that nearly 33 percent of women undergoing treatment for breast cancer experience extreme fatigue, and there is no known treatment for it. Their findings indicated a significant improvement in reported fatigue and vigor after initiating a regular yoga class.
While all these study results are exciting, more research is needed in these areas. The study about men with prostate cancer had a relatively small sample with almost half of the group needing to drop out due to scheduling issues. Perhaps future studies could draw larger samples and address the scheduling issues either by coordinating with the care team or offering an at-home option.