Researchers from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have found qigong, an ancient mind-body practice, reduces depressive symptoms and improves quality of life in women undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer.
The study, published in the journal Cancer, is the first to examine qigong in patients actively receiving radiation therapy and include a follow-up period to assess benefits over time. Even though individual mind-body practices such as meditation and guided imagery appear to reduce aspects of distress and improve quality of life, questions remain about their effectiveness when conducted in conjunction with radiation therapy.
"We were also particularly interested to see if qigong would benefit patients experiencing depressive symptoms at the start of treatment," said Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor in MD Anderson's Departments of General Oncology and Behavioral Science and director of the Integrative Medicine Program. "It is important for cancer patients to manage stress because it can have a profoundly negative effect on biological systems and inflammatory profiles."
For the trial, Cohen, the corresponding author, and his colleagues enrolled 96 women with stage 1-3 breast cancer from Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center in Shanghai, China. Forty-nine patients were randomized to a qigong group consisting of five 40-minute classes each week during their five-to-six week course of radiation therapy, while 47 women comprised a waitlist control group receiving the standard of care.
The program incorporated a modified version of Chinese medical qigong consisting of synchronizing one's breath with various exercises. As a practice, qigong dates back more than 4,000 years when it was used across Asia to support spiritual health and prevent disease.
Participants in both groups completed assessments at the beginning, middle and end of radiation therapy and then one and three months later. Different aspects of quality of life were measured including depressive symptoms, fatigue, sleep disturbances and overall quality of life.
Results show benefits emerged over time
Patients in the qigong group reported a steady decline in depressive symptom scores beginning at the end of radiation therapy with a mean score of 12.3, through the three month post-radiation follow-up with a score of 9.5. No changes were noted in the control group over time.
The study also found qigong was especially helpful for women reporting high baseline depressive symptoms, Cohen said.