Research conducted by yoga therapist Annette Loudon while obtaining her Masters of Medical Sciences at the University of Tasmania is having ongoing benefits for cancer survivors around the country.
The study focused on women with secondary lymphoedema, a disruption to the lymphatic system that often causes swelling in the affected area because lymph fluid does not drain effectively.
This condition often happens after cancer treatments such as surgery and radiation, and must be managed for the rest of the person's life. Many people also have primary lymphoedema, which is a congenital condition of the lymphatic system. As part of her research through the University's Centre for Rural Health, Loudon created a yoga program specifically for women living with lymphoedema after breast cancer treatment.
While I don't believe yoga is a cure, it is wonderful to know … yoga can certainly help people cope better
As she had hoped, the study resulted in many benefits for those who did the yoga compared with the control group, such as reduced symptoms from lymphoedema, less tissue density in the affected arm and improved posture "One of the ladies said, for the first time in 20 years, she could reach her garage door with both arms, and when we measured her range of motion, it had improved," Loudon said.
"One of the woman said just doing the yoga with a group of people and making a connection changed her life.
"She started off with severe depression, rating her quality of life as a 0 (out of 10). By the end of the trial she rated it 8 out of 10."
Loudon, who is president of the Australian Association of Yoga Therapists, is training other therapists in the Yoga for Lymphoedema program.
On the back of her research in Tasmania, she produced a DVD, Yoga for Secondary Arm Lymphoedema (available through the Australasian Lymphology Association, lymphoedema.org.au) and had previously made a DVD, Yoga for Women after Treatment for Breast Cancer (ywcansw.com.au).
In 1998, while living in Sydney, she realised a quarter of the women she taught in her yoga classes were having treatment for breast cancer, many of whom were later diagnosed with secondary arm lymphoedema.
"That led to me training in lymphatic drainage and lymphatic massage so I could add those medical principles to my yoga classes," she said.
"When I was accepted as a Masters candidate through the University of Tasmania, my partner and I moved to Tasmania and this is where I was able to conduct a randomised controlled trial in Hobart and Launceston with women who had secondary arm lymphedema from breast cancer treatment.
"As a result of that research, three publications have evolved and more are on the way."