For men with prostate cancer who are undergoing the trials of radiation therapy, relief may just be a namaste away. A study has found that general quality of life and measurements of side effects often experienced by prostate cancer patients were stable throughout a course of outpatient radiation therapy among the men participating in an intensive yoga program. Side effects tracked included fatigue, sexual health, and urinary incontinence.
The fatigue generated by prostate cancer is not the garden variety “feeling tired.” It has been found to lower the quality of life even more than does pain, and studies have shown that anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of patients receiving radiation therapy report this symptom. Making matters worse, erectile dysfunction is reported in 21 to 85 percent of all prostate cancer patients, while urinary incontinence is reported in 24 percent of men with this ailment.
What's the science? One possible explanation stems from physiologic data demonstrating yoga's ability to help reduce cancer- as well as treatment- related fatigue and to strengthen pelvic floor muscles and increase blood flow. These latter aspects may in turn improve erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence.
“There may also be a psycho-social benefit that derives from participation in a group fitness activity that incorporates meditation and promotes overall healthiness. And all of this ultimately improves general quality of life,” noted Neha Vapiwala, MD, lead author of the study and associate professor in the department of Radiation Oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Sixty-eight eligible prostate cancer patients were identified and offered study participation, of which 45 consented (66 percent) to attend twice-weekly yoga classes of 75 minutes each. The classes were taught by trained Eischens yoga instructors within the Abramson Cancer Center.
Now, yoga has been around a while, and its benefits for breast cancer sufferers has been widely disseminated. Why has it taken so long to find its way across the aisle to prostate cancer patients? Citing the figures that 72 percent of those who practice yoga are female, and only 18 percent of practitioners are over the age of 55 (the median age for prostate diagnosis is 66), the scientists reckon that research is lacking due to the perception that men would not be willing to participate in this form of holistic exercise.
The beneficial effect of yoga was judged by subjects’ responses to a series of questions that assess overall quality-of-life, cancer–related fatigue, and prevalence of sexual and erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence. These variables were chosen because they affect so many prostate cancer patients.
The research was presented at the Society of Integrative Oncology’s 12th International Conference.