Meditation and Yoga - Do they help cancer treatment?A recent article published in the Journal of National Cancer Institute Monographs has provided evidence-based recommendations for certain behavioural therapies to improve mood, depression and anxiety in women receiving treatment for breast cancer. Although breast cancer is not a Haematology cancer, these results are interesting and provide some long-awaited evidence that these interventions may help in cancer patients.

Intuitively, many people believe that these interventions are likely to help. This paper collected data from properly conducted trials (where patients are randomly assigned to have additional therapy or just standard care which was surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormonal therapy). 203 of these trials in breast cancer patients were reviewed. The safety and effectiveness for a range of additional therapies was assessed and a rank given to the therapy according to the evidence of benefit. Ranks A, B, C and D were given in order of highest to least benefit and rank H was given to an additional therapy that caused Harm.

Yoga, meditation and relaxation with imagery all achieved an ‘A’ rating as being beneficial for mood improvement in patients with depression and anxiety who were having breast cancer treatment.

Music therapy achieved a ‘B’ grade for reduction in stress.

32 treatments had only weak evidence of benefit and were given a ‘C’ grade, and 138 therapies were given a ‘D’ because there was not enough evidence to form a recommendation either way.

The only therapy that was seen as harmful (‘H’) was the use of acetyl-L-carnitine –an amino acid that has been used to try to prevent nerve damage from a group of breast cancer drugs called taxanes. This treatment actually worsened the nerve damage.

What does this mean for cancer patients?

At least in breast cancer patients who are suffering from depression or anxiety, there is now good evidence that meditation, yoga and relaxation with imagery is beneficial. We don’t yet have the same data for haematology cancer patients but this strengthens the recommendation that these may be useful approaches for our patients who suffer from depression and/or anxiety.

Music therapy may also reduce stress in cancer patients, with moderate evidence that it is helpful in breast cancer patients with stress.


Dr Kirsten Herbert

Ref: J Natl Cancer Inst Monogr 2014;50:346-358