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Mesothelioma Patients and Their Caregivers Benefit From Yoga

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According to the National Cancer Society, exercise is an important part of cancer treatment and recovery. Exercise can help patients feel better physically, improve their appetite, loosen stiffened joints, as well as improve their mood. While many mesothelioma patients do not have the stamina or strength to walk, yoga can offer these same benefits – and  maybe more. A recent study reports that yoga “provides physical and mental benefits for both lung cancer patients and their caregivers.”

Researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center set out to find interventions for families facing a poor cancer prognosis and to examine mind-body techniques as supportive care strategies. Led by Kathrin Milbury, PhD, an assistant professor of cancer medicine in the Department of Palliative Care and Rehabilitation Medicine, they turned to yoga as a “a gentle form of exercise,” and for the ease in modifying poses for patients and for adapting it for partner participation.

In the feasibility study focused on physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation, the team offered patients and their caregivers 15, one-hour yoga sessions, according to a press release announcing the initial results of the study. The poses included chest-opening moves that incorporated stretching the chest area with deep breathing practice. All of the patients in the study had inoperable non-small cell lung cancer and were undergoing thoracic radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The patients completed a quality-of-life survey and a six-minute walking assessment.  26 patient/caregiver pairs took part, completing a mean of 12 classes.

“It is never too late to engage in exercise, and we know from earlier studies that people can exercise while being treated with chemotherapy or radiation,” said Dr. Milbury.  “Caregivers sometimes have more anxiety and sleeping problems than patients. Therefore, we thought that having the patient and caregiver go through yoga instruction together would be beneficial for both partners.”

The patients who took the yoga classes “had significantly better physical function as assessed by the 6-minute walking test,” better stamina for performing daily activities, as well as improved mental health. The caregivers reported improvements in fatigue and stamina.

Mesothelioma is an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart caused by past exposure to asbestos. Research has shown that patients who focus on the power of the mind-body connection and choose to be optimistic and positive will realize a higher quality of life and may respond better to treatments. In addition, cancer patients who practice yoga and stay active by walking or getting outside are shown to have less stress and anxiety than those who remain sedentary.

According to WebMD, regular yoga practice can “lead to significant improvements in sleep for people who have undergone cancer treatment.” In a study conducted by the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center, University of Rochester Medical Center, researchers found that yoga was effective in improving sleep quality and sleep efficiency in cancer patients.

“We demonstrated that patients undergoing treatment for lung cancer are not too sick to participate in a behavioral supportive care intervention,” said Dr. Milbury. “Both patients and caregivers reported to have enjoyed the experience, and it gave them a time away from cancer, and [they] learned something new together.”

The research will be continued with a more diverse group of patients.

Prior to beginning any fitness routine, mesothelioma patients should discuss their options with their doctors.

Visit MD Anderson Cancer Center’s website to find out more about the yoga study. The results were presented at the 2017 Palliative And Supportive Care In Oncology Symposium held Oct. 27-28 in San Diego, CA.

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