Yoga could be the answer to improving the quality of life for children with cancer, as well as their parents.
In a pair of preliminary studies published in Rehabilitation Oncology, a yoga program can be carried out even during cancer treatment. Lead researcher Andrea Orsey of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford said the programs could help.
“Our findings support the notion that yoga for pediatric cancer patients during active treatment is feasible and potentially helpful in improving both patient and parent well-being,” she said.
Orsey and her colleagues explored how feasible and effective a yoga program would be for children with cancer and their families. While yoga has been accepted as a complementary therapy for adults with cancer, its benefits for children have not been studied thoroughly.
The initial survey included 20 children and adolescents with cancer whose parents expressed interest in doing yoga during treatment. The parents voiced concerns about possible side effects, pain and discomfort, and physical limitations.
Researchers then developed a yoga intervention for pediatric cancer patients with parents’ concerns in mind. The program was taught by certified yoga instructors and was designed to be performed in a variety of settings tailored to the children’s physical condition.
After designing the program, a pilot study was conducted and included ten children with cancer along with their family members and caregivers. The study was limited by size, but suggested improvements in health-related, emotional and social quality of life for children.
“Yoga made my daughter less swollen,” said one mother who participated in the study. “It gave her more energy and made her more positive.”
Parents noticed their mental health-related quality of life improved as well. Those who participated in the yoga classes reported high levels of satisfaction, perhaps due to feeling more at ease with their child’s situation, the study said.
The pilot study hopes to help guide future efforts to provide the benefits of yoga to children with cancer and their families. One key issue of concern is coordinating yoga sessions beside the medical demands of chemotherapy.
“We found that the patients’ treatment appointments were somewhat erratic, making scheduling difficult. We only had a few specific times available for offering the yoga, and often these times did not fit patients’ schedules. Thus, future studies would benefit from a more flexible scheduling arrangement,” the study said.
The study’s limitations included no control group and that the classes were subject to change at any notice, due to a patient’s condition or day. Determining the optimal time for the yoga classes was the largest challenge, but the researchers said they hope their findings contribute information to the helpfulness of yoga for oncology patients.
“We found that patients and their families preferred delivery of yoga in a studio; trying different settings might be important when designing larger trials,” the study said. “It would also be helpful to examine the mechanisms underlying the improvements produced by a yoga intervention. Ultimately, research will be needed to identify which aspects or styles of yoga are most helpful for which types of pediatric patients.”