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Clinical trial shows yoga negates side-effects of prostate cancer treatment

Published on 07/04/17 at 09:23am

Men who are treated for prostate cancer display side-effects of treatment by radiation that can often seriously disrupt their personal lives: loss of control of the bladder, erectile dysfunction and severe fatigue are all known side-effects of treatment. These can be managed by medication but now a clinical study has looked into the potential benefit of lifestyle change – the practice of yoga.

It may seem to be research hopping on the back of the latest lifestyle fad but the results of the study, by Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, found that when patients had twice-weekly yoga classes, many of the common negative impacts of treatment were minimised and even entirely negated.

The study was separated into two groups, one arm that participated in yoga classes and one control group who underwent treatment as standard. The main research criteria was the measurement of fatigue during the course of treatment and, in this area, the yoga arm reported vastly improved results against the control group.

Fatigue is a common side-effect of radiation therapy but those taking the yoga classes reported lower levels of fatigue, from their baseline at the beginning of the study, by the fourth and fifth week, while those in the control, as expected, reported greater fatigue by the same period.

Wider than this, sexual dysfunction, often a major worry for those undergoing prostate treatment, was found to be unchanged in the yoga group while the control group reported worsening outcomes. The same was found to be true of bladder function.

“At their baseline, before patients started treatment, patients in both groups were on the lower end of the scale, meaning they reported lower amounts of fatigue,” said the trial’s principal investigator Neha Vapiwala, MD, an associate professor of Radiation Oncology. “But as treatment went on, we observed a difference in the two groups. Levels of patient-reported fatigue are expected to increase by around the fourth or fifth week of a typical treatment course, but that did not happen in the yoga group.”

The reasons for the results could be various: bladder function could be linked to the fact that yoga engages the pelvic floor muscles while sexual function could be related to increased physical activity.

Whether yoga will become a standard inclusion as part of treatment seems unlikely but it could potentially change advice given by physicians to patients undergoing treatment. There would need to be further studies to see if the results are specifically linked to yoga or are more generally related to increased physical activity or participation in social events. However, those undergoing treatment may well consider the benefits of this form of treatment to outweigh any questions about the particular reasons why.

Ben Hargreaves

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