Cancer is one of the most feared diseases. From the moment a patient gets diagnosed, it can have such a large psychological and emotional impact on someone’s life.
Although treatment options have come a long way, the statistics of new cancer cases and cancer-related mortality is still scary. According to the World Health Organisation, cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and was responsible for approximately 9.6 million deaths in 2018.1
Over recent years, there has been a growing interest in the non-pharmacological treatments available that can boost our body’s natural defences against cancer. Certain foods, complimentary medicine and supplements have long been on the list for cancer prevention and treatment. But of particular interest has been the positive association between cancer survival and physical activity, including yoga!
Originally, cancer research focused on the treatment and transformation of the cancer cells themselves. But there has been growing evidence that shows that the mechanical factors in the tissue surrounding the tumour (also called the ‘stroma’) can influence the growth of the tumour.2
This was demonstrated in an interesting study in 2018, which hypothesised that stretching would reduce the growth of tumours that were implanted into locally stretched tissues. This was tested in a breast cancer model using mice. The mice were treated for one month with 10 minutes of stretching daily. The results were surprising: the tumour volume at end point was 52% smaller in the stretch group, compared to the non-stretch group, in the absence of any other treatment. Further, the overall levels of inflammatory mediators were up regulated in the stretch group.3
As with all clinical studies, there are limitations to the results and the real clinical significance lies in developing a method of testing stretching and yoga in humans, and monitoring its impact on primary and secondary cancer treatment.
Further, yoga can also have a role in cancer treatment by its positive effect on the immune system. It is a well-known fact that the body’s immune system plays an important role in the development of cancer. When a patients immune system is weak, a mutated cancer call can escape being destroyed by the immune system and can continue to proliferate. A number of studies have showed that sustained stress (commonly seen in cancer patients) can have a negative impact on cellular immunity.4 As yoga can help to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, it is likely that yoga could play a role in regressing the growth of a tumour. Of course, further well- designed studies would be needed to test this hypothesis.
The treatment of cancer is multi-dimensional and very complex. There are number of essential and critical pharmacological interventions that are required for its treatment. However, as yoga is such a gentle intervention, there is good research
to show that there are multiple benefits if it was to be integrated into conventional cancer care in the future.
If you want to read more about the study, please see a link to the article below:
“Stretching Reduces Tumour Growth in a Mouse Breast Cancer Model” found at:
2. Mueller, M. M. & Fusenig, N. E. Friends or foes - bipolar effects of the tumour stroma in cancer. Nature reviews. Cancer 4, 839–849,(2004).
3. L. Berrueta, J. Bergholz, D. Munoz, et al. Stretching Reduces Tumor Growth in a Mouse Breast Cancer Model. Scientific Reports 8, 7864 (2018).
4. Cohen S, Rabin BS, Psychologic stress, immunity, and cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst; 90(1):3-4. (1998)