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Moving towards better health

Yoga may assist women with breast cancer lymphoedema, say researchers.

South Australian researchers will investigate whether yoga can assist women living with lymphoedema after breast cancer treatment.

They hope that yoga practice incorporating movement, breathing and meditation will reduce the symptoms of lymphoedema by helping lymph to flow through the lymphatic vessels. It is also thought breathing exercises and meditation practices will help reduce stress and enhance wellbeing.

The study is being run as a UniSA Division of Health Sciences honours degree project, in partnership with Flinders Medical Centre’s Lymphoedema Assessment Clinic.

Honours student Jan Douglass, who is also a lymphoedema therapist, said lymphoedema currently affects at least 25 to 30 per cent of women who are treated for breast cancer. However, she said researchers believe up to 50 per cent of women treated for breast cancer could be suffering lymphoedema symptoms without being officially diagnosed.

“Women living with lymphoedema after breast cancer therapy not only have an enlarged arm, but it impacts on their daily lives,” Douglass said.

“They lose range of movement and muscle tone, so they can’t pick up their grandchildren or hang out the washing or even reach behind their head to brush the back of their hair. Another issue is the effect on self image. You have this enlarged arm and it’s hard to buy clothes and wear short sleeves.”

Douglass hopes her yoga project may provide some relief for women who live with lymphoedema for the rest of their lives after breast cancer treatment.

She said this would be the first breast cancer lymphoedema study using yoga.

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