Can Yoga Help With Cancer?

The dreaded ‘C’ word. It’s very rare that you would talk to someone who hasn’t been touched by cancer in some way. Apart from the personal aspect of this disease it’s a significant public health concern.

It’s reported that one in three people will be directly affected by cancer before the age of 75. Some of the most common types of cancer affecting people living in western countries being;

  • Breast cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Colorectal
  • Prostate

Survival rates continue to increase with better treatment options now available to patients who are diagnosed. Of course early detection is also a key factor.

The application of yoga and yoga therapy to help support cancer patients is receiving more and more attention and when I started looking into some of the research there is one area in particular that I found yoga really really excels.

Cancer and the treatment of; is associated with some fairly serious physical and psychosocial symptoms some of them include:

  • Reduced physical function and fitness
  • Increased risk of anxiety, depression and fatigue
  • Shifts in quality of life.


There was a paper published in 2012 that reviewed much of the existing quality research that had been conducted into yoga and cancer.

Several studies were included in the review, all included postures, breathing and visualisation/ meditation.

The findings of this study are fairly significant in supporting the use of yoga in cancer patients. There was one area in particular where yoga really excelled at supporting patients;

All of the psychosocial symptoms associated with cancer saw great improvement;

  • Reductions in distress/ anxiety and depression
  • Reductions in fatigue
  • Increases in general quality of life
  • Increases in emotional function
  • Increases in social function
  • There were also some good results in functional well being.


It should be noted that the majority of studies for this review paper included patients with breast cancer. In some of the studies yoga therapy was given during conventional cancer treatment. Generally yoga was given 1-3 times a week and all participants were encouraged to take up a home practise.

From my experience working with and talking to patients diagnosed with cancer there is a huge amount of emotional processing that needs to be done, not just during the treatment phase but well after treatment is completed.

Of course there is a place for conventional therapy and support groups when it comes to helping with the psychosocial aspects. I would argue that if the patient is open to the idea of implementing yoga as part of their daily routine, it can only help support both during and well after cancer treatment.


Buffart et al.: Physical and psychosocial benefits of yoga in cancer patients and survivors, a systematic review and meta- analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMC Cancer 2012 12:559