Yoga May Assist Women With Breast Cancer Lymphoedema

The ancient practice of yoga may help women with lymphoedema

Image courtesy of UniSa

South Australian researchers will investigate whether yoga can assist women living with lymphoedema after breast cancer treatment.

They hope that yoga practice incorporating movement, breathing and meditation will reduce the symptoms of lymphoedema by helping lymph to flow through the lymphatic vessels. It is also thought breathing exercises and meditation practices will help reduce stress and enhance wellbeing.

The study is being run as a UniSA Division of Health Sciences Honours degree project, supervised by Dr Maarten Immink, in partnership with Professor Neil Piller from Flinders Medical Centre’s Lymphoedema Assessment Clinic.

Honours student Ms Jan Douglass, who is also a lymphoedema therapist, says lymphoedema currently affects at least 25 to 30 per cent of women who are treated for breast cancer. However, she says researchers believe up to 50 per cent of women treated for breast cancer could be suffering lymphoedema symptoms without being officially diagnosed.

“Women living with lymphoedema after breast cancer therapy not only have an enlarged arm, but it impacts on their daily lives,” Ms Douglass says.

“They lose range of movement and muscle tone, so they can’t pick up their grandchildren or hang out the washing or even reach behind their head to brush the back of their hair. Another issue is the effect on self image … you have this enlarged arm and it’s hard to buy clothes and wear short sleeves.”

Ms Douglass hopes her yoga project may provide some relief for women who live with lymphoedema for the rest of their lives after breast cancer treatment.
She says this will be the first breast cancer lymphoedema study using yoga.

Project supervisor Dr Maarten Immink says a national Yoga in Australia survey, conducted through researchers at RMIT, showed that more people are participating in yoga today than playing traditionally popular sports like AFL football or martial arts.
“People are increasingly seeking yoga for health promotion and management of chronic conditions. As well, its profile in terms of complementary health is increasing,” Dr Immink says.
“Yoga ticks all the boxes in terms of the World Health Organisation’s definition of health as a state of physical, mental and social well-being.”

The researchers are looking for women living with lymphoedema after breast cancer treatment to participate in the yoga study. Volunteers will take part in a four week program of gentle yoga and meditation.  Participants get a free yoga program that they can practice at home and a yoga mat.

Ms Douglass says the classes will focus on yoga-based movements that facilitate lymph function and mobility and will be suitable for all abilities.
“Participants will receive information about lymphoedema education and self management prior to the classes commencing and will then be allocated into either a group commencing classes the following week, or a group which will start the classes after a four week waiting period,” she says.

“Non-invasive measurements of lymphoedema will be taken at the commencement of the trial and again four weeks later.”

Women who would like to volunteer for the study can phone Jan Douglass on 8204 4903. Yoga classes will be held at the Active Elder Association Hall at Ascot Park, while measurements will be taken at Flinders Medical Centre.

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