Breast cancer is the most prevalent type of invasive cancer attacking women in the United States. Last year alone some 213,000 women were diagnosed with the disease. The good news is that two million women have survived. Many women with breast cancer seek complementary interventions that will enhance their quality of life. Yet research is lacking whether these programs such as yoga, also benefit immune function.
A new study of breast cancer survivors practicing Iyengar yoga ? a form of yoga that incorporates all of the components of physical fitness and focuses on structural alignment of the body as well as mental relaxation ? has found that breast cancer survivors who practice yoga have changes in the way their immune cells respond to activation signals, which may be important for understanding how physical activity and meditative practices benefit the immune system. The function of genes in immune cells can be regulated by proteins called transcription factors. Transcription factor nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-?B) is linked to immune cell activation and to the stress response.
The study, entitled Down-regulated lymphocyte NF-?B activation in breast cancer survivors following yoga participation, was conducted by Pamela E. Schultz, Mel Haberman, Ph.D., Kenn Daratha, Ph.D., Sally E. Blank, Ph.D., from Washington State University, and Joni Nichols, M.D., from Cancer Care Northwest (US Oncology), in Spokane, WA. They will discuss their findings at the 120th annual meeting of the American Physiological Society (APS; www.the-APS.org), being held as part of the Experimental Biology (EB ?07) meeting. More than 12,000 scientists and researchers are attending the conference, being held April 28-May 2, 2007 at the Washington, DC Convention Center.
Active practice of Iyengar yoga, named for its creator B.K.S. Iyengar, differs from the gentle restorative practices typically offered to cancer survivors as it can include all the components of physical fitness. The active practice of ?sanas (postures) can incorporate cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility and balance.
Nineteen women, average age 61 years, diagnosed with stage I-III breast cancer and receiving antiestrogen or aromatase inhibitor hormonal therapy participated in the study. Time since diagnosis was approximately four years. None had any experience with Iyengar yoga. The subjects were randomized to either yoga (n=10) or a wait-list control group (n=9).
Beginning level Iyengar yoga classes were conducted two times per week for eight weeks and included the following yoga poses: standing poses, chest and shoulder openers; and inversions. The women were given a home instruction sheet to practice once a week at home a week at home for a total of three yoga sessions per week.
A survey of the subjects demands of illness and a blood sample to determine lymphocyte NF-?B activation were collected prior to and following the intervention.
Preliminary findings indicate:
demands of illness, which reflects the burden and hardship of breast cancer survivorship, decreased following yoga participation.
compared with pre-intervention responses, women who participated in yoga had lower stimulated lymphocyte NF-?B activation after eight weeks of yoga than did the control group
decreases in demands of illness were associated with decreased lymphocyte NF-?B activation in the yoga participants, only.
This study demonstrates that an active yoga practice taught in the Iyengar tradition can be successfully offered to breast cancer survivors who are approximately four years out from initial cancer diagnosis and who are receiving certain types of hormonal therapy. It also shows that the program can have important psychological benefits for breast cancer surivors. This study is an important addition to the literature on the effectiveness of yoga intervention on the quality of life for female breast cancer survivors and that these changes may be associated with cell signaling regulating lymphocyte function.