Cancer patients sleep better and suffer less pain and fatigue if they practise yoga, research suggests.
New studies presented at the world's largest cancer conference in Chicago found that as little as four weeks of practising yoga, including gentle hatha yoga, can improve wellbeing and reduce tiredness.
The first study on 321 cancer patients examined the impact of yoga on cancer-related fatigue and sleep.
Patients in the study, 77% of whom had breast cancer, were split into two groups, with one receiving usual care and the other following a four-week yoga programme.
The yoga course was a gentle hatha programme with poses, breathing exercises and mindfulness.
Women were invited to take part for 75 minutes twice a week for four weeks.
Some 86% attended at least five of the eight classes.
The results showed that yoga significantly improved both fatigue and sleep quality, with around a fifth of the effect on fatigue due to better sleep.
But 37% of improvement in fatigue was actually put down to less daytime napping.
Po-Ju Lin, from the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York, who worked on the study, said: "One of the most striking results was that the yoga group felt less fatigued but actually spent less time asleep.
"This is an interesting finding because some people think they feel cancer fatigue so they just need to rest, but actually cancer-related fatigue is not like other fatigue that you can sleep off or rest away.
"Our data suggests that those who practise yoga sleep less. By adding yoga practice into their daily lives it helped them to remain more active and sleep less."
She said doctors should prescribe yoga as a "low-risk, low-cost treatment" to all cancer patients with cancer-related fatigue.
"We would like them to prescribe gentle hatha yoga but they need to refer to appropriate yoga instructors who have experience of working with cancer patients."
She said sleep disruption affects 30% to 90% of cancer patients, while cancer fatigue affects 60% to 100%.
The second study on 850 women with early-stage breast cancer saw half the group encouraged to do yoga while the other half were given usual care.
After 18 to 22 months, women in the yoga group were experiencing fewer side-effects of treatment (44% versus 56%), experienced lower fatigue and said they were suffering less detriment to their general activity (41% versus 59%).
They also had lower levels of pain.
Researcher Nita Nair, from the Tata Memorial Cancer Centre in Mumbai, said: "Yoga showed numerically better scores in all aspects of quality of life, which reached statistical significance in domains related to fatigue, emotional score and pain score.
"In overall quality of life, 52% women on yoga showed an improvement from baseline compared to 42% in the control arm."
She said 72% of women reported worsening of pain in the usual care group, while the figure was only 28% in the yoga group.
Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, said: "This intriguing research suggests that yoga could help alleviate some of the very difficult side-effects following breast cancer treatment, such as pain, fatigue and sleep deprivation.
"These side-effects can have a hugely detrimental impact on patients' quality of life and yoga is a low-risk widely-available activity that could help women manage and overcome them.
"We now look forward to further research that can shed light on exactly which elements of yoga may be of benefit to women living with and beyond breast cancer."
Jean Slocombe, Cancer Research UK's senior information nurse, said: "Fatigue is a problem for many cancer survivors and it can be difficult to know how best to help because it affects people differently and there are few really effective things people can do.
"Research like this is important and may help health professionals assist survivors and improve their quality of life."
Sarah Toule, head of health information at World Cancer Research Fund, said: "This interesting research shows the positive impact that gentle exercise like yoga can have for cancer patients.
"We are currently funding a number of studies on precisely how much exercise patients would need to do to feel less fatigued and what type of exercise would work best.
"We hope that exercise programmes could become part of standard cancer care, improving the quality of life of a large number of patients."
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved.