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What Application can Therapeutic Yoga have for Gynecologic Oncology Patients?

Michelle Lyons is instructor of "Oncology and the Female Pelvic Floor: Female Reproductive and Gynecologic Cancers", among other Herman & Wallace courses. We thought you might like to hear her expert analysis of current research going on in the field of gynecologic oncology, and the benefits therapeutic yoga can have on patient rehabilitation. Take it away, Michelle!

More than 65,000 women are diagnosed with gynecologic cancers (vulvar, vaginal, cervical, ovarian, endometrial) in the United States each year (Sohl et al 2012). Treatment options for these women include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapy – all of which have the potential to have local, regional and global effects on a woman’s body. The pelvic rehab specialist is in a unique position to hugely improve quality of life issues for these women – dealing with issues directly associated with pelvic health (urinary, sexual and bowel function and dysfunction) as well as more global issues such as bone health, peripheral neuropathies and musculoskeletal dysfunctions.

Yoga has enormous potential as a therapeutic tool for gynecologic cancer survivors and as exercise prescription experts, we can add yoga as a multi-purpose tool to our skill-set.

Empirical research on therapeutic yoga has been ongoing for several decades, including several recent studies conducted with cancer patients and survivors. Although most of the research looking at the benefits of yoga for cancer survivors has been done in the context of breast and prostate cancers, we can safely extrapolate many of the benefits associated with oncology rehab yoga, including its immediately obvious ability to improve flexibility, strength, balance, but also the impact yoga can have on decreasing inflammation, improving sleep and raising quality of life scores in pelvic cancer survivors.

Recent papers by Dewhirst et al showed how moderate exercise can improve the efficacy of chemotherapy and radiation by decreasing tumour hypoxia – they also discovered that this may limit metastatic aggression.

We also know that exercise can be potent medicine when it comes to dealing with the effects of cancer treatments, especially fatigue, bone health and cardiovascular function, which may disrupt return to exercise (Kerry et al 2005). But pelvic cancer patients may face extra barriers when it comes to returning to exercise, such as pelvic pain and concerns about continence, as well as diminished flexibility, balance and strength. But as Blaney et al concluded in their 2013 paper ‘…however, the main barriers reported were those that had the potential to be alleviated by exercise.’ And in my opinion, this can be achieved by integrating yoga into our pelvic oncology rehab programs.

These recent and exciting research findings have encouraged me to add a therapeutic yoga lab session to my Oncology & the Pelvic Floor course, which I will be teaching in NY next month. This is the last chance to catch this course stateside this year so I hope you will join me in White Plains to explore the many ways we can make a serious impact on pelvic cancer survivorship (Bring your yoga mat!)

References:

Psychooncology. 2013 Jan;22(1):186-94.
Cancer survivors' exercise barriers, facilitators and preferences in the context of fatigue, quality of life and physical activity participation: a questionnaire-survey. Blaney JM1, Lowe-Strong A, Rankin-Watt J, Campbell A, Gracey JH.

Annals of Behavioral Medicine
April 2005, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 147-153
A Longitudinal Study of Exercise Barriers in Colorectal Cancer Survivors Participating in a Randomized Controlled Trial
Kerry S. Courneya Ph.D., Christine M. Friedenreich Ph.D., H. Arthur Quinney Ph.D., Anthony L. A. Fields M.D., Lee W. Jones Ph.D., Jeffrey K. H. Vallance M.A., Adrian S. Fairey M.Sc.

JNCI J Natl Canc
Allison S. Betof, Christopher D. Lascola, Douglas H. Weitzel, Chelsea D. Landon, Peter M. Scarbrough, Gayathri R. Devi, Gregory M. Palmer, Lee W. Jones, and Mark W. Dewhirst
Modulation of Murine Breast Tumor Vascularity, Hypoxia, and Chemotherapeutic Response by Exercise

Vulvar Pain Perceptions and Experiences in Heteros...
Risk Factors for Postpartum Coccyx Pain

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