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Yoga, Meditation May Ease Some Breast Cancer Symptoms

HealthDay News
by By Kathleen DohenyHealthDay Reporter
Updated: May 19th 2017

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FRIDAY, May 19, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- The diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer can come with a lot of anxiety, depression and other symptoms that affect quality of life. But mind-body therapies, such as yoga or meditation, may help ease these troubling concerns, a new study suggests.

The researchers reviewed previous studies done on 80 integrative therapies.

"We have good evidence that [some] mind-body therapies -- such as meditation, yoga, relaxation -- can provide benefit to breast cancer patients during and after treatment," said study researcher Heather Greenlee. She's an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

"And we do have evidence that acupuncture is very useful in managing pain," she added.

Evidence about dietary supplements and botanicals, however, are lacking when it comes to helping symptoms and side effects, she said.

Greenlee and her colleagues conducted the study to update clinical guidelines for the Society for Integrative Oncology. Greenlee is past president of the society. She said that past research indicates that as many as eight in 10 people with cancer turn to complementary or integrative therapies at some point.

The study looked at complementary and alternative therapies, defined as those outside the range of conventional treatments. Complementary treatments are those used along with conventional care, she said. Alternative treatments are often used instead of conventional care. She prefers the term integrative therapy, which describes the use of non-conventional treatments in conjunction with conventional care.

The researchers limited the study to integrative therapies for breast cancer patients. Use of these treatments is popular among women with breast cancer, and there is evidence for some treatments.

The research didn't include information on any potential survival benefits, because the studies are lacking that evidence.

The integrative therapies were graded. An A grade indicates there is strong evidence in favor of that treatment, and B is moderate. C represents preliminary evidence. D means the evidence suggests the treatment is not effective. H means the treatment has the potential to be harmful.

Meditation got an A. This therapy was found to have the strongest evidence, recommended for lessening anxiety, improving depression and quality of life. Yoga and music therapy got a B for lessening anxiety and improving mood. Yoga also got a B for improving quality of life. Yoga, acupuncture and hypnosis got a C on fatigue improvement.

Acupuncture and acupressure, when added to conventional drugs for lessening chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, got a B.

One supplement, acetyl-L-carnitine, can cause harm, the study found. This supplement is used by breast cancer patients to help with fatigue or with nerve problems associated with chemotherapy, according to the study. But the investigators found the supplement was ineffective for fighting fatigue, and could worsen nerve problems.

The new guidelines are welcome news, according to Matthew Loscalzo. He's a social worker and the executive director of supportive care medicine at the City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif.

Loscalzo's program includes mind-body and other treatments with conventional care, and he said the treatments recommended by the guidelines do help reduce stress and other symptoms. He also agreed with the finding about supplements.

Loscalzo said that his biggest concern is patients who turn to the unproven supplements and don't seek conventional medical care. "I have women coming in with cancers that would have been cured a year ago," he said, if they hadn't chosen to seek only alternative treatments.

In particular, Loscalzo said that he especially cautions people to avoid St. John's wort, used for depression, and mega doses of supplements. Some treatments can interact with chemotherapy, he explained.

But mind-body therapies are helpful for treating emotional stress and other problems that can accompany a cancer diagnosis, Loscalzo said.

Patients need to start with their doctor when considering a non-conventional therapy, he suggested. "Your doctor should be able to direct you," Loscalzo advised.

The guidelines were published online April 24 in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

More information

To learn more about safe use of integrative health, visit the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.