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  • Pilot Study Indicates Yoga Improves Quality-of-Life for Pediatric Cancer Patients and Their Parents

    With childhood cancer mortality rates falling over the past 4 decades, some researchers say it's time to take a closer look at better ways of supporting the psychosocial and quality-of-life needs of patients and their families during treatment—including making yoga a part of the mix.

    That's the premise of a preliminary feasibility study that looked at parent and patient receptivity to the idea of including yoga as an adjunct to cancer treatment, and tracked changes to quality of life after an 8-week yoga program. Results were published in Rehabilitation Oncology, the science journal of the APTA Oncology Section.

    The research was conducted in 2 parts: first, researchers administered surveys to patients and their parents that aimed to assess willingness and barriers to participate in a yoga program that would take place during treatment visits; in the second phase of the project, patients and their parents participated in an 8-week yoga program, and were asked about quality-of-life issues at baseline and after the program's completion. To qualify for the studies, patients had to be 8-18 years old, possess a cognitive ability of at least an 8-year-old, and be undergoing cancer treatment during the study period. In addition, parents were required to be able to physically participate in yoga with their children. The first phase of the study involved 20 patients and 20 parents or guardians; the second part of the study included 12 patient-parent pairs.

    Researchers found that even though patients and parents recognized potential barriers to participating in yoga—most frequently, concerns about side-effects of cancer treatments, and potential pain and discomfort—just over half were interested in participating in a program, and 80% believed "participating in a program that would help you relax" would be helpful. Researchers used the results to help yoga instructors create interventions that would accommodate side effects such as fatigue and discomfort to help reduce those perceived barriers.

    Volunteer patient-parent dyads were then enrolled in the 8-week yoga intervention, a program held weekly by a certified yoga instructor with special training in providing instruction to the pediatric cancer population. Sessions were designed to last for an hour each; however, patient symptoms prevented sessions from going longer than 30 minutes in 30% of the sessions. Delivery methods varied by patient status, and included bed and chair-based yoga.

    Researchers found that the program resulted in significant changes among patient perceptions of quality-of-life related to emotional and social wellbeing, measured on a 100-point scale. Patients who participated in the program saw an average uptick of 11.5 points on the emotional scale, from 62.5 to 74. Average gains in the social scale jumped by just over 10 points, from 76.1 to 86.5. For parents, the biggest gains were made in the "mental health composite scale" assessment, which revealed an average increase of 8 points, from 39.1 to 47.

    Authors of the study acknowledge that their research is preliminary, and that several limitations—including lack of a control group, small sample size, and relatively low dose of intervention—make it difficult to draw definitive conclusions about effectiveness.

    Researchers also found implementation to be problematic, given their attempts to coordinate the sessions with inpatient or outpatient treatment. "We found that the patients' treatment appointments were somewhat erratic, making scheduling difficult," authors write. "We only had a few specific times available for offering the yoga, and often these times did not fit patients' schedules."

    Still, they believe, it's time for health care to more carefully consider integrating a broad range of interventions, such as yoga, to help patients and parents stay as physically and emotionally healthy as possible during cancer treatment.

    "Given advances in pediatric cancer survival rates, the importance of support for the wide range of treatment-related challenges incurred by children and their families has increased. As a result, integrative medicine has received an increasing amount of attention in hopes of promoting holistic health and wellness for this growing group of survivors," authors write, concluding that "our findings support the notion that yoga for pediatric cancer patients during active treatment is feasible and potentially helpful in improving both patients' and parents' well-being."

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.


    • I wish that researchers in this area learned to operationally define their interventions. What is yoga? I would operationally define it as "positioning the body in various positions that are enjoyable to the participate (and may vary as such) while mentally focusing on the posture and breathing so as to change the focus of concentration away from stress inducing thoughts with the goal of reducing the stress producing thoughts during daily activities independent of the time doing the postures." Yoga is not about the postures. It is about focusing on something different during the day. Researchers then may start to realize that line dancing, Tai Chi, Qigong, meditation, contemplative prayer and walks in nature all share a common component which is the retraining of the mind to focus on pleasant things rather than ruminant on negative things. The next step becomes changing the focus on oneself and learning compassion for others but that is a whole new line of operationally defining the goal of such practice.

      Posted by Herb Silver on 1/12/2017 6:44 AM

    • This is great news! I always knew Yoga has many great techniques in balance and strengthening.

      Posted by Elisabeth Sanford on 1/12/2017 2:58 PM

    • Thanks for sharing this article. Yoga does improve the quality of life and it is a great hobby to take on.

      Posted by pediatric cancer foundation on 2/10/2020 9:35 AM

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