How Yoga Could Help Some Men

Prostate cancer patients undergoing radiation saw benefits from yoga


Yoga isn't just for women. In fact, it might help men with side effects from a type of cancer only men can get.

Prostate cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment saw reductions in side effects when they practiced yoga twice a week, a new study found. Specifically, these men saw reductions in fatigue, erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence — all common effects of prostate cancer or radiation.

Disclosure: This was a very small study. Forty-five prostate cancer patients agreed to participate, but 18 dropped out due to scheduling issues. That left 27 patients — and only 12 came to over half the yoga sessions.

Still, lead study author Dr. Neha Vapiwala, an associate professor of radiation oncology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, told dailyRx News her study is promising. And she and her research team already have another higher-quality study in the works, Dr. Vapiwala said.

While the current study didn't look at why yoga might have an effect on men with prostate cancer, Dr. Vapiwala offered a few possible explanations — with the note that these hypotheses would have to be confirmed in future research.

"We hypothesize that the relaxation response induced by yoga may help with erectile function, in that nitric oxide plays a prominent role in vascular dilation (blood flow) and erections, and yoga increases circulating blood levels of nitric oxide," Dr. Vapiwala said. "... As far as urinary function, there is some evidence that yoga in combination with pelvic exercise can help reduce urinary incontinence in women, and thus we hypothesize that strengthening the pelvic floor muscles with yoga may reduce urinary incontinence in prostate cancer patients."

Fatigue, urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction are common side effects of prostate cancer. And radiation therapy may make them worse for some patients. The National Cancer Institute estimates that nearly 221,000 men in the US will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. And if further research confirms the findings of the current study, those men could find at least a little relief in yoga.

If you're feeling a little left out from the prostate cancer-related benefits of yoga (if you're a woman or at low risk, for instance), you may not need to. Dr. Vapiwala said "there is no reason to think that we couldn’t have similar improvement in fatigue and quality of life in patients with other types of cancers who are undergoing cancer treatment.

In other words, keep om-ing along until you hear otherwise, yoga fans. And if you're interested in getting started in yoga, don't forget to talk to your doctor about it first.

This study was presented Nov. 16 at the Society of Integrative Oncology International Conference. Research presented at conferences may not have been peer-reviewed.

The American Cancer Society funded this research. Conflict of interest disclosures were not available at the time of publication.