Summary: Qigong improves symptoms of depression and overall quality of life. The positive effects of the intervention for patients receiving radiation therapy for breast cancer may be most noticeable after treatment.
What is Qigong? Here’s what the National Qigong Association has to say: Qigong (chew-gong) is made of 2 words (chee, or life force that flows through all things in the universe and gong (pronounced gung) or skill that is cultivated through steady practice). Qigong is the integration of physical postures, breathing techniques, and focused intentions.
The Study: 96 women with breast cancer undergoing radiation therapy were randomized to either a qigong group or a control group. The research was conducted at Fudan Universtiy Shanghai Cancer Center (Shanghai, China), in collaboration with faculty from University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (USA). Women were excluded from the study if they self-reported prior regular qigong or tai chi practice in the prior year. The qigong program involved five 40-minute qigong classes each week during the 5-6 week course of radiation therapy. 78% attended at least half of the sessions.
Results: Regardless of whether patients did qigong or not, their scores for depression improved. However, the symptoms of depression improved more in the qigong group (than in the control group). But the significant differences didn’t emerge until 1 and 3 months after radiation therapy was complete.
My take: Interesting, but bias and patient expectations were not controlled in the study. Could it be that the qigong practitioners anticipated a positive effect from the intervention? Are the results applicable to a non-Chinese population? To me, this study does not offer high level evidence that the intervention reduces depression. Still, qigong is generally considered safe, and might be considered among other mind-body techniques as a part of an integrated management strategy for patients with breast cancer. I practice it, and you may want to, too.
The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page. Thanks!