Qigong Improves Quality of Life for Women Getting Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

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Qigong (pronounced chee-gung) is a 4,000-year-old Chinese exercise program that combines gentle, rhythmic movements with breathing techniques and mental focus. Tai chi is a type of qigong.

Many practitioners believe that there is a vital energy flowing throughout the body – the qi – and that qigong can help increase, circulate, or store the qi, as well as use the energy to cleanse and heal the body, depending on the type of qigong done.

Research has suggested that tai chi may help increase strength, balance, and feeling of well-being in women diagnosed with breast cancer.

A study done in China by scientists from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has found that women undergoing radiation therapy for early-stage breast cancer had better quality of life and fewer depressive symptoms when they did qigong. This is the first time researchers have looked at the effects of qigong on women actively getting radiation therapy for breast cancer.

The study was published online on Jan. 25, 2013 by the journal Cancer. Read the abstract of “Qigong improves quality of life in women undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer.”

The researchers randomly assigned 96 Shanghai women diagnosed with stage I to stage III breast cancer who were getting 5 to 6 weeks of radiation therapy treatment to either:

  • five 40-minute qigong classes each week while they were getting radiation therapy (49 women)
  • being put on a waiting list for the classes (47 women)

The women were asked about their quality of life, including:

  • fatigue
  • sleeping problems
  • depressive symptoms
  • overall quality of life

when the study started, in the middle of radiation therapy, at the end of radiation therapy, 1 month after radiation therapy ended, and 3 months after radiation therapy ended.

Women in the qigong group reported that their depressive symptoms went down beginning at the end of radiation therapy. Women who didn’t do qigong had no changes in their depressive symptoms.

The researchers found that qigong seemed to be especially helpful for women who had high levels of depressive symptoms when the study started. These women reported less fatigue and better overall quality of life compared to women who didn’t do qigong. Both of these differences were statistically significant, which means that the differences were likely because of the qigong and not just due to chance.

Because most of the benefits of qigong seemed to happen after radiation therapy ended, the researchers think that qigong may help women recover faster from treatment. It could also be that the benefits of qigong are subtle and build up over time.

If you’re receiving radiation therapy to treat early-stage breast cancer and having depressive symptoms, you may want to talk to your doctor about this study and ask if qigong may be a good option for your unique situation.

In the United States, the practice of qigong isn’t regulated by state or federal government. Teacher training program requirements can vary from 50 to 1,000 hours depending on the school, and licensing isn’t required. Still, many hospitals and cancer centers offer tai chi or other forms of qigong. You can ask your doctor or nurse for recommendations.

For more information, including important things to consider before trying qigong, visit the Tai Chi page in the Breastcancer.org Complimentary and Holistic Medicine section.

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