October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month but why stop the Awareness there. The fight continues. Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and likely has touched the lives of someone in your life. Personally, I have both friends and family who have been affected by breast cancer. In my family alone, it has hit 3 women, including my mother. Thanks to Divine Grace, all are alive and well today.

Mom walking her labyrinth – a walking prayer to raise awareness for breast cancer.

Unfortunately, approximately one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. It is therefore imperative that we learn how to lower our risk and how to help those affected manage it best. Due to enormous improvements in treatment, Breast Cancer has become a relatively manageable chronic condition.

Risk factors for breast cancer include some that we cannot control (family history and age) but there are many that we can control. These are the ones we can and should be mindful of.

  • Alcohol consumption. Sorry ladies, but more than one alcoholic beverage a day significantly increases your risk
  • Being overweight or obese, particularly after menopause
  • Not being physically active
  • Birth Control
  • Hormonal Therapy after Menopause
  • Diet (mixed study results)
  • Stress

Within the population of cancer patients, there is a growing interest in complementary therapies to address the role of stress. Compared to other malignancies, women with breast cancer frequently make use of complementary therapies. The overall rate has been reported to be as high as 75%.

 As a mind-body discipline, yoga is claimed to offer physical, mental and spiritual benefits. Studies have shown beneficial physical and psychological effects in several different cancer patients, including breast cancer patients.

Research in breast cancer patients has shown that yoga may be able to help:

  • improve physical functioning
  • reduce fatigue
  • reduce stress
  • improve sleep
  • improve quality of life

At the 2003 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, results were reported from a yoga study involving 126 women recently diagnosed with Stage I or II breast cancer. The women were about to receive chemotherapy or hormonal therapy. Some of the women were assigned to yoga classes over a 3-month period. The women taking yoga had a 12% improvement in fatigue, physical functioning, and quality of life compared with those in the program who did not take the yoga classes.

In 2006, results of a yoga study were reported from an M.D. Anderson Cancer Center study. The study followed 61 women receiving 6 weeks of radiation treatment for breast cancer. Half the women took a yoga class twice a week; the other half did not. Compared with the women who did not take yoga, the women in the yoga group reported having more energy and less daytime sleepiness, better physical functioning, and better overall quality of life.

As beneficial as yoga is for those women dealing with cancer, I posit that yoga is equally beneficial to lower our risk of cancer. Yoga addresses several of the risk factors – physical activity, emphasis on plant-based nutrition and most importantly, stress management. So ladies, let’s get on our mats and …

Important things to consider before trying yoga

  • Find an experienced yoga teacher or yoga therapist (like me): Not all yoga teachers are trained to deal with cancer patients. Ask your oncologist or cancer center staff to recommend highly experienced yoga instructors who regularly work with cancer patients.
  • Risk of lymphedema: In people who have had lymph nodes removed, some of the more strenuous yoga types and poses may present a risk for lymphedema. A yoga instructor who has experience with breast cancer patients will know which yoga types and poses are safe.
  • Risk of fracture in people with bone metastasis: In people with breast cancer that has metastasized to the bone, some types of yoga may carry a risk of fractures. If you have bone metastasis, ask your doctor whether yoga is right for you, or if there is a gentle form of yoga or another practice that might work better, such as meditation or guided imagery. Always check with your doctor before you begin a yoga practice.

For more basic information about breast cancer, see the American Cancer Society’s section on breast cancer http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer.com or visit http://www.breastcancer.org