Yoga and radiation therapy … interesting, but is it really practical?

Data from a small study presented at an international conference held by the Society of Integrative Oncology in Boston last week have suggested that yoga may have some benefits for men receiving radiation therapy for prostate cancer.

According to a report on the HealthDay web site,

The new study included 27 men who attended 75-minute yoga classes twice a week. These patients saw their quality of life and side effects remain stable throughout their radiation treatment.

Some men have significant side effects during and following radiation  therapy — e.g., fatigue during the course of treatment. It has previously been shown that exercise (and resistance training in particular) can help patients to manage and recover from such fatigue, so it would hardly be surprising if regular yoga could have a similar effect.

However, this study is really far too small to be able to make any clear determination about any impact of yoga on risk for more serious short- or long-term genitourinary or gastrointestinal side effects like erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, or diarrhea, which are not unusual among men undergoing radiation therapy for prostate cancer. Could this be possible? Yes, it could — particularly on urinary continence. But it would need a much bigger trial to show this with clarity.

The media release issued by the University of Pennsylvania uses the word “may” with a very high degree of frequency in talking about this study … and given that frequency one has to assume that the words “may not” could also be used with a similar degree of frequency. Regrettably, also, the study only reports data from 27 patients, although 45 patients were initially enrolled out of a total of 68 eligible patients identified. That’s a 40 percent study completion rate compared to the eligibility level. And then there is the “Real men don’t do yoga” effect on top of this. (Only about 28 percent of people who do yoga in the USA are male, and most of those are under 55, whereas most prostate cancer patients are a decade older!)

A slightly different version of this paper appears to have been published by Ben-Josef et al.

The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink thinks that doing yoga is an excellent form of exercise for those who enjoy it. The authors certainly deserve praise for  performing this pilot study, and if a prostate cancer patient is already a yoga practitioner, he will probably benefit from continuing yoga during his radiation treatment. However, the chances that one could persuade the majority of prostate cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy here in the USA to attend two 75-minute yoga classes a week (in addition to their 5-day-per-week radiotherapy schedule) still look pretty low to us!

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