Among abstracts highlighted at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 46th Annual Meeting, a randomized, controlled study examining the value of yoga designed specifically for cancer survivors found that a 4-week yoga program helped them sleep better and experience less fatigue, and improved their quality of life.

“Very few, if any, treatments for the sleep problems and fatigue that cancer survivors experience work well for very long, if at all,” said lead author Karen Mustian, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of radiation oncology and community and preventive medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

“The study results point to a simple, nonpharmacological therapy that clinicians can recommend to help patients with several very common cancer-related problems.” Sleep problems and fatigue are among the most prevalent side effects experienced by cancer survivors, and they can impair quality of life. Approximately 80% of patients report sleep problems during treatment, and as many as 65% experience problems after therapy ends. Few effective treatments are available.

In this randomized, multicenter, Phase II/III trial—conducted through the University of Rochester Cancer Center Community Clinical Oncology Program—the benefits of yoga were assessed in 410 survivors of early-stage cancers (96% women, 75% breast cancer patients) who reported sleeping problems between 2 and 24 months after completing adjuvant therapy for their cancer.

Participants received either usual care alone or usual care plus a 4-week, twice-weekly YOCAS (Yoga for Cancer Survivors) program, consisting of mindfulness exercises such as breathing, meditation, visualization, and poses in standing, seated, and lying-down positions.

Patients who took yoga reported greater sleep quality, less use of drugs for sleep, less fatigue, and better quality of life, while the control group reported increased use of sleeping medication.

Specifically, patients in the yoga group reported greater improvement in sleep quality (22% vs 12%), reduced incidence of clinically impaired sleep (31% vs 16%), and less daytime sleepiness (29% vs 5%), compared with patients in the control group. The yoga group showed these improvements in sleep while reducing sleep medication use by 21%. In contrast, the control group increased sleep medication use by 5%.

Additionally, researchers found that those in the yoga group reported a 42% reduction in fatigue, while the control group reported only 12% less fatigue after 4 weeks. Yoga participants reported an improved quality of life (6%) while the control group reported no change.