Texas researchers have found breast cancer patients who practice an ancient Chinese meditation method — known as qigong — tend to be in better spirits, have fewer symptoms of depression, and a higher quality of life.
The findings, by medical specialists with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, are the latest example of science confirming the health benefits of ancient mind-body medicine techniques. They are also among the first to suggest that meditation and other alternative relaxation methods may be useful adjuncts to conventional breast cancer radiation therapy that can help boost women’s natural immune defenses.
Lead researcher Lorenzo Cohen, an oncology specialist and director of the UT Integrative Medicine Program, said the study, published in the journal Cancer
, sought to examine both the immediate and long-term benefits of qigong for cancer patients receiving radiation therapy.
"We were … particularly interested to see if qigong would benefit patients experiencing depressive symptoms at the start of treatment," said Cohen. "It is important for cancer patients to manage stress because it can have a profoundly negative effect on biological systems and inflammatory profiles."
For the study, Cohen and colleagues tracked 96 women with breast cancer from Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center in Shanghai, China.
Forty-nine patients participated in a qigong group that engaged in five 40-minute classes each week during a five-to-six week course of radiation therapy; 47 receiving standard therapy alone. Chinese qigong, which has been practiced for more than 4,000 years to promote spiritual and physical health, involves synchronizing one's breath with various exercises.
Women in both groups were assessed at the beginning, middle, and end of therapy for depressive symptoms, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and overall quality of life.
The results showed patients in the qigong group reported a steady decline in depressive symptom scores beginning at the end of radiation therapy and three months after treatment ended. No changes were noted in the women who received only standard care. Cohen said the results showed qigong was particularly helpful for women with the greatest depressive symptoms at the start of radiation.
"We examined women's depressive symptoms at the start of the study to see if women with higher levels would benefit more," Cohen said. "In fact, women with low levels of depressive symptoms at the start of radiotherapy had good quality of life throughout treatment and three months later regardless of whether they were in the qigong or control group.
"However, women with high depressive symptoms in the [non-meditating] group reported the worst levels of depressive symptoms, fatigue, and overall quality of life that were significantly improved for the women in the qigong group."
The study was funded, in part, by the National Cancer Institute.
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