Tai Chi and Cancer

Tai Chi in the Hospital

Many benefits have been attributed to the practice of Tai Chi, but it is perhaps the potential for this form of exercise to aid in the prevention and treatment of cancer that has caused the most excited interest.

There is evidence to suggest that practicing Tai Chi has benefits for patients who are undergoing the treatment cancer or who are recovering from such treatment.  This is an area with tremendous promise and much more research need to be done.

Research already conducted into the effects of Tai Chi used alongside cancer treatment or during recovery has shown that it can help to improve the patient’s quality of life and to aid in recovery.

The radiation treatments and chemotherapy that are used to treat cancer can result in serious side-effects including fatigue, pain and neuropathy, which affects sensation in the extremities and can therefore disrupt balance. These effects can persist long after the treatment itself has ended, having a significant effect on the quality of life of patients who are undergoing these types of therapy. Patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer can also experience stress, worry and difficulty sleeping, and they can also lose strength and physical condition. Tai Chi can help counteract some of these side-effects, both during treatment and recovery.

Practicing Tai Chi has been shown to have some important benefits for patients during cancer treatment and recovery. The benefits of Tai Chi for stress management and improving the quality of sleep are well established and they are likely to be particularly important for people who are experiencing the stress associated with disease and cancer treatments. Tai Chi has also been shown to provide pain relief for a number of chronic conditions, which could be an important benefit for cancer patients.

Tai Chi can help with relaxation and stress management. It can improve the quality of sleep and help to relieve pain. Tai Chi can also improve balance and help patients to maintain their strength and physical ability. (MSKCC)

Studies of the effects of Tai Chi on cancer patients have focused on the ways in which it can improve quality of life during and after treatment. Research has shown that Tai Chi has been able to improve the self-esteem and quality of life of breast cancer survivors. Practicing Tai Chi for an hour three times a week over 12 weeks was able to improve self-esteem and health related quality of life in a group of people who had completed breast cancer treatment in comparison to a control group that did not take part in the Tai Chi sessions. The control group actually showed a decline in these measures. (Mustian 2004) Studies have also shown that practicing Tai Chi can help people to recover their functional capacity following breast cancer treatment. This refers to measures such as flexibility and strength, which can diminish a great deal during cancer treatment. Practicing Tai Chi for 12 weeks enabled breast cancer survivors to increase their functional capacity significantly more than a control group that did not participate in Tai Chi. (Mustian 2006)

Tai Chi can help improve the general health of cancer patients. It can help to reduce many of the side-effects of cancer treatment, including depression, insomnia and physical weakness. It can also improve quality of life. Studies have shown that support programs can have a significant impact on the quality of life of cancer patients and that classes in exercises such as qigong enjoyed the best participation rates in these programs. (Emory Cancerquest)

Although it has also been suggested that practicing Tai Chi may also help reduce cancer risks or to promote survival, there is as yet no definitive scientific evidence to support such claims. However, evidence is building that suggests that regular exercise can help prevent cancer, so Tai Chi may be able to contribute to the reduction of cancer risks. Even though the evidence on the effects of Tai Chi on cancer is limited, there is already plenty of scientific evidence to suggest that Tai Chi can play a role as a means of stress relief and exercise during and after cancer treatment.

Tai Chi offers an excellent form of exercise for people who are affected by cancer or other serious diseases since there are some gentle forms that can be used even by those whose mobility may be limited. Individuals can choose the forms of Tai Chi that are suitable for their own physical abilities. The techniques of Tai Chi can even be adapted for use by people who need to perform them while seated or in bed. (MSKCC)

There are a number of ongoing research projects and clinical trials currently pursuing further research into the benefits of Tai Chi for cancer patients and survivors.


Emory Cancerquest CAM: Yoga, Tai Chi http://www.cancerquest.org/complementary-alternative-medicine-yoga-tai-chi Accessed 23/01/2011

MSKCC: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center http://www.mskcc.org/mskcc/html/69395.cfm Accessed on 23/01/2011

Mustian, KM. Katula, JA. Gill, DL. Roscoe, JA. Lang, D. Murphy, K. (2004) Tai Chi Chuan, health-related quality of life and self-esteem: a randomized trial with breast cancer survivors. Support Care Cancer. Dec 12(12):871-6 Available online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15599776 Accessed 23/01/2011

Mustian, KM. Katula, JA. Zhao, H. (2006) A Pilot Study to Assess the Influence of Tai Chi Chuan on Functional Capacity Among Breast Cancer Survivors. Supportive Oncology 4(3):139-145. Available online at http://www.supportiveoncology.net/journal/articles/0403139.pdf Accessed 23/01/2011

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