Doctors should prescribe yoga to cancer patients to help stop it spreading or returning, new research suggests.
Two sessions a week was found to ‘significantly reduce inflammation’, which is known to encourage cancer growth.
The ‘gentle’ form of the exercise can also help lessen the severity of cancer and lower the risk of it spreading elsewhere, the study suggests.
Experts said there has been a gradual shift in attitudes, with doctors now favouring keeping active over rest to aid recovery.
A separate study presented at the world’s biggest cancer conference found cancer patients who stayed active in old age slashed their chances of dying by nearly 18 per cent.
Doctors should prescribe yoga to cancer patients to help stop it spreading or returning, new research suggests
Those who walked just 30 minutes a day or continued with basic tasks like carrying shopping bags or digging the garden gave themselves the best chance of survival, it suggests.
Both the studies add to growing evidence of the role exercise can play in helping cancer patients, experts say.
Exercise is known to have anti-inflammatory effects so researchers from University of Rochester Medical Centre, New York, wanted to look at whether yoga could be beneficial to cancer survivors.
Karen Mustian, lead researcher on the project, has been studying it’s impact on treatment toxicity and side effects in cancer patients for the last two decades, ‘when there were no yoga studios on the corners of every city.’ In this study of 502 cancer survivors, around half took part in 75-minute sessions, twice a week for four weeks.
Blood tests were taken at the start and end of the month to assess levels of inflammation, which revealed they had significantly lower markers of stress.
‘The basic take home story is that inflammatory chemicals were lowered by the yoga,’ she said.
‘In the last 20 years, we’ve moved beyond asking the question, should we be encouraging things like traditional exercise yoga, tai chi for patients? The answer is yes.
‘Now, the question is exactly what should we do? I think if you come from the health and fitness industry you think it should become a lifestyle, but from a medical perspective, you want to know what is the least amount of exercise that can be done which is effective.’
The body’s inflammatory response is essential to tell he immune system to send white blood cells and chemicals to help fight off infection or repair an injury.
But prolonged inflammation can damage the body’s healthy cells and tissue and weaken the immune system.
The findings, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago, suggest that just eight sessions of yoga could be enough to make a real difference.
They conclude: ‘Our data suggest that yoga significantly reduces inflammation among cancer survivors.
‘Clinicians should consider prescribing yoga for survivors experiencing inflammation, which may lead to a high chronic toxicity burden and increased risk of progression, recurrence, and second cancers.’
Latest NHS data on cancer waiting times showed the 62-day cancer backlog has fallen for the first time since before the pandemic. But almost 6,000 patients did not start treatment within two months of an urgent referral from their GP. It means only 63 per cent of cancer patients in total were seen within the two month target. NHS guidelines state 85 per cent of cancer patients should be seen within this timeframe but this figure has not been met since December 2015
Meanwhile, a separate study of 2,692 Brazilian cancer patients aged over 60 found the risk of death was higher in those who had a sedentary lifestyle.
The research, which included people with prostate, breast, gut and lung cancers – the most common types, found inactive people were 28 per cent more likely to die within six months of their diagnosis.
Patients were ranked by their activity levels, with ‘active’ classed as at least one 30 minute walk five days per week.
After 180 days, 90 per cent of people in the active group were still alive, compared to 74 per cent in the sedentary group.
Dr Jurema Telles de Oliveira Lima, from the Instituto de Medicina Integral Professor Fernando Figueira in Brazil who led the study said exercising slows down damaging ageing processes including the breakdown of cells and DNA mutations.
She said: ‘Lifestyle nowadays corresponds to 30 or 40 per cent of cancer cases.
‘So we would have less cancer if we had different lifestyles and our study shows that we probably would have lower mortality as well.
‘Sometimes we can’t control having cancer but we can control how the body responds and how we respond to the treatment.’
Melissa Hudson, a leading cancer survival expert from St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, said both show it is vital for patients to remain active during treatment.
Tai chi or yoga, she suggested, were an easy way to ‘reintegrate back into physical activity if you’re very intimidated about it’.
She said: ‘I do think more and more folks are aware that we have to begin to get these messages earlier on – that they can be active and tolerate physical activity.
‘I think that it’s a message that oncologists need to be telling their patients that it is important for you to be as active as you can withstand, based on your current symptoms.’