Yoga Therapy in Cancer Care via Telehealth During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Author: Smitha Mallaiah1, Santhosshi Narayanan1, Richard Wagner1, Chiara Cohen1, Aimee J Christie1, Eduardo Bruera1, Gabriel Lopez1, Lorenzo Cohen1
1 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, USA.
Conference/Journal: Integr Cancer Ther
Date published: 2022 Jan-Dec
Other: Volume ID: 21 , Pages: 15347354221141094 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1177/15347354221141094. , Word Count: 313

Yoga is an evidence-based mind-body practice known to improve physical and mental health in cancer patients. We report on the processes and patient-reported outcomes of one-on-one yoga therapy (YT) consultations delivered via telehealth.

For patients completing a YT consultation between March 2020 and October 2021, we examined demographics, reasons for referral, and self-reported symptom burden before and after one YT session using the Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS). Changes in ESAS symptom and subscale scores [physical distress (PHS), psychological distress (PSS), and global distress (GDS)] were evaluated by Wilcoxon signed-rank test. Descriptive statistics summarized the data.

Ninety-seven initial YT consults were completed, with data evaluated for 95 patient encounters. The majority were women (83.2%) and white (75.8%), The mean age for females was 54.0 and for males was 53.4; the most common diagnosis was breast cancer (48%), 32.6% had metastatic disease, and nearly half (48.4%) were employed full-time. Mental health (43.0%) was the most common reason for referral, followed by fatigue (13.2%) and sleep disturbances (11.7%). The highest symptoms at baseline were sleep disturbance (4.3), followed by anxiety (3.7) and fatigue (3.5). YT lead to clinically and statistically significant reductions in PHS (mean change = -3.1, P < .001) and GDS (mean change = -5.1, P < .001) and significant reductions in PSS (mean change = -1.6, P < .001). Examination of specific symptom scores revealed clinically and statistically significant reductions in anxiety (mean change score -1.34, P < .001) and fatigue (mean change score -1.22, P < .001). Exploratory analyses of patients scoring ≥1 for specific symptoms pre-YT revealed clinically and statistically significant improvements in almost all symptoms and those scoring ≥4 pre-YT.

As part of an integrative oncology outpatient consultation service, a single YT intervention delivered via telehealth contributed to a significant improvement in global, physical, and psychosocial distress. Additional research is warranted to explore the long-term sustainability of the improvement in symptoms.

Keywords: COVID-19; cancer; complementary and alternative treatments; integrative medicine; integrative oncology; patient-reported outcomes; telehealth; telemedicine; yoga; yoga therapy.

PMID: 36510480 DOI: 10.1177/15347354221141094