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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Yoga management of breast cancer-related lymphoedema: a randomised controlled pilot-trial

Annette Loudon1, Tony Barnett1, Neil Piller2, Maarten A Immink3 and Andrew D Williams4*

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Rural Health, University of Tasmania, Launceston, Australia

2 School of Medicine, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia

3 School of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

4 School of Health Sciences, University of Tasmania, Launceston, Australia

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014, 14:214  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-14-214

Published: 1 July 2014

Abstract

Background

Secondary arm lymphoedema continues to affect at least 20% of women after treatment for breast cancer requiring lifelong professional treatment and self-management. The holistic practice of yoga may offer benefits as an adjunct self-management option. The aim of this small pilot trial was to gain preliminary data to determine the effect of yoga on women with stage one breast cancer-related lymphoedema (BCRL). This paper reports the results for the primary and secondary outcomes.

Methods

Participants were randomised, after baseline testing, to receive either an 8-week yoga intervention (n = 15), consisting of a weekly 90-minute teacher-led class and a 40-minute daily session delivered by DVD, or to a usual care wait-listed control group (n = 13). Primary outcome measures were: arm volume of lymphoedema measured by circumference and extra-cellular fluid measured by bioimpedance spectroscopy. Secondary outcome measures were: tissue induration measured by tonometry; levels of sensations, pain, fatigue, and their limiting effects all measured by a visual analogue scale (VAS) and quality of life based on the Lymphoedema Quality of Life Tool (LYMQOL). Measurements were conducted at baseline, week 8 (post-intervention) and week 12 (four weeks after cessation of the intervention).

Results

At week 8, the intervention group had a greater decrease in tissue induration of the affected upper arm compared to the control group (p = 0.050), as well as a greater reduction in the symptom sub-scale for QOL (p = 0.038). There was no difference in arm volume of lymphoedema or extra-cellular fluid between groups at week 8; however, at week 12, arm volume increased more for the intervention group than the control group (p = 0.032).

Conclusions

An 8-week yoga intervention reduced tissue induration of the affected upper arm and decreased the QOL sub-scale of symptoms. Arm volume of lymphoedema and extra-cellular fluid did not increase. These benefits did not last on cessation of the intervention when arm volume of lymphoedema increased. Further research trials with a longer duration, higher levels of lymphoedema and larger numbers are warranted before definitive conclusions can be made.

Keywords:
Yoga; Breast cancer-related lymphoedema; Symptoms; Quality of life; Randomised controlled trial