Ancient Moves for Prostate Cancer Patients

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Qigong relieved fatigue and anxiety in older prostate cancer patients

October 31, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

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(dailyRx News) Qigong is an ancient Chinese practice that combines slow movement, controlled breathing and concentration. People of any age can practice Qigong. A small study recently looked to see if the practice could help with fatigue.

Older prostate cancer patients who took part in a 12-week Qigong class reported feeling less fatigued and distressed than men who took part in stretching classes.

Though this was a small study and needs to be confirmed in larger studies, the authors suggested that Qigong may be a useful non-pharmaceutical approach for treating fatigue in prostate cancer patients.

"Learn more about non-aerobic physical activities like Qigong."

Anita Y. Kinney, PhD, formerly with the University of Utah Huntsman Cancer Institute and now with the University of New Mexico Cancer Center, co-authored this study with Rebecca Campo, PhD, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Brian D. Lawenda, MD, national director of Integrative Oncology and Cancer Survivorship for 21st Century Oncology and Founder of IntegrativeOncology-Essentials.com, told dailyRx News, "Qigong is a nearly 5,000-year-old Chinese mind-body practice that combines body movement, muscle relaxation, breathing techniques and meditation which are believed to promote a healthy, balanced flow of energy called 'qi' within the body. In the system of traditional Chinese medicine, balanced and freely flowing qi promotes physical, emotional and psychological health."

Dr. Lawenda, who was not affiliated with this study, continued, "Qigong is an effective complementary therapy for cancer patients, as numerous studies have previously reported that this practice can improve a variety of quality of life measures, such as: depression, anxiety, mood, pain, cognitive function, numbness, dizziness, etc."

Because physical activity is often prescribed for prostate cancer patients to relieve fatigue and other symptoms, the researchers in this study and their colleagues wanted to know if the mind-body practice of Qigong could relieve fatigue and anxiety commonly experienced by older prostate cancer patients.

“Severe fatigue is one of the most common cancer-related symptoms reported by cancer survivors, particularly for prostate cancer survivors receiving androgen deprivation therapy (ADT)," the authors wrote in the study’s background.

Cancer-related fatigue, which can interfere with daily function, affects up to 53 percent of men with prostate cancer.

Extreme physical, emotional or cognitive tiredness — which can last for months or years — is often amplified by cancer treatments, pain, medications, sleeping and nutritional problems and other health issues the patient has in addition to prostate cancer.

High anxiety also affects up to a quarter of older cancer survivors, and the distress can interfere with cancer therapy adherence and reduce healthy behaviors.

For this study, senior prostate cancer patients were recruited from various Huntsman Cancer Institute organizations.

A total of 40 participants, with an average age of 72, enrolled. The men were equally divided into two groups: one which practiced Qigong for 60 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks and another that took hour-long stretching classes twice a week for 12 weeks.

The classes began and ended with five minutes of meditative focus on the breath. The slow Qigong movements targeted all main muscle groups and included upper and lower body stretching exercises performed in seating and standing positions. The routines became progressively more intense as the class continued. 

The researchers found that attendance at the Qigong classes was higher than in the stretching classes.

Participants completed surveys relating to both fatigue and mental health issues before and after attending the classes.

Men in the Qigong group reported a 5-point improvement (out of a scale of 0-52) in their levels of fatigue, while those in stretching classes reported no change.

In the mental health area, men in the stretching group reported no improvements, while Qigong practitioners saw declines in depression, troubled sleeping and anxiety.

"It is not surprising," Dr. Lawenda said, "that this most recent study has demonstrated improvements in fatigue and distress for men with prostate cancer."

He added, "Although this study and many of the others need to be repeated with larger numbers to validate the results, the consistently positive findings regarding Qigong are very promising and well worth having patients give it a try to see if it helps them with their cancer and cancer treatment-related symptoms."

The authors wrote that larger randomized control trials are needed to explore the value of Qigong in treating prostate cancer-related fatigue, and concluded, “We believe our study findings help support the utilization of Qigong in the supportive cancer care of older prostate cancer survivors for alleviating fatigue and distress.”

This study was published in the November issue of the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

Support for this research came from National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the Huntsman Cancer Foundation and the Linda B. and Robert B. Wiggins Wellness-Survivorship Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute.

No conflicts of interest were reported.