SCMP:Qigong helps breast cancer patients recover

Qigong helps breast cancer patients recover
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 May, 2012, 12:00am
Jennifer Cheng

Breast cancer patients are finding that the rhythmic breathing and stretching techniques of the Guo Lin qigong exercise system can help with their recovery.

The effectiveness of the exercise in treating cancers in general has been documented in scientific studies over the four decades since it was developed in Beijing. Now a Hong Kong professor is studying its effectiveness against breast cancer, the most common cancer among women in the city.

Chen Jianping, a professor at the University of Hong Kong's School of Chinese Medicine, is trying to learn if Guo Lin qigong can ease the side effects of chemotherapy - such as poor appetite, loss of sleep, nausea and fatigue, as well as ease numbness and swelling after surgery.

The results were promising after a preliminary study conducted last month. Guo Lin qigong was taught to 28 women with breast cancer. Eighteen of the women reported feeling more optimistic and emotionally stable, 12 found they could sleep better and 10 saw their appetites improve.

'The key is that Guo Lin qigong helps the patient breathe more,' said Chen. 'The more oxygen you take in, the more difficult it is for cancerous tumours to grow.' Higher levels of oxygen in the blood makes chemotherapy more effective.

Now Chen is expanding her pool to 200 breast cancer patients for a study that will last for up to one year. Half the patients will learn Guo Lin qigong and the other half Dao Yin Yang Sheng Gong - a school of qigong that improves health but is not targeted at fighting cancer.

They will attend classes for a month and be monitored for between six months and a year, to determine the effectiveness. So far, Chen has 70 volunteers for the study. Volunteers must be in their first year after having breast cancer surgery.

This style of qigong is named after its creator, a Beijing woman named Guo Lin who developed it in the 1970s after contracting womb cancer at the age of 59. Now practised worldwide, it combines movement and meditation, along with smiling throughout.

Chen said exercises like jogging or hiking have somewhat the same effect but, unlike qigong, they do not follow Chinese medicine theories that seek to improve mental health.

'Chemotherapy can be a huge shock to the body,' said Chen. 'While Western medicine tries to treat the illness, Chinese medicine seeks to treat the patient.' She said the camaraderie of practising qigong with fellow patients is a major reason for their new-found zest.

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