It is no secret that exercise has a positive effect on those with breast cancer, however, there is little studied on what forms of movement and exercise has the largest impact.
A team of U.S. scientists saw this as an opportunity to study the impact of daily stretching, such as yoga and tai chi, on breast cancer.
Headed by Helene Langevin, M.D., the team of researchers explored and found that it is possible that with a regimen of gentle stretching, it could benefit human cancer patients.
“We know, generally, that physical activity is beneficial in cancer patients but not why that is,” said Dr. Langevin, director of Osher Center for Integrative Medicine.
“Gentle stretching is something that many cancer patients not only can do but enjoy doing. We wanted to develop a preclinical model that could help us study the effects of stretching on tumor growth and, if safe and effective, be translated into a regimen for humans.”
With a growing interest in the development of non-pharmacological treatments that can boost natural defenses against cancer and contribute to primary and secondary cancer prevention, even recent studies have shown that gentle daily stretching for 10 minutes can reduce local connective tissue inflammation and fibrosis.
The scientific team hypothesized that stretching would reduce the growth of tumors implanted within locally stretched tissues. The researchers came to this conclusion due to past studies that revealed stretching to have the ability of reducing local connective tissue inflammation and fibrosis through mechanical effects that act directly on the stretched tissues.
“We therefore hypothesized that stretching would reduce the growth of tumors implanted within locally stretched tissues, and tested this hypothesis in a mouse model of breast cancer.”
Prior to starting their stretching regimen, the mice received injections of primary breast cancer cells into mammary fat pads that are surrounded by subcutaneous and deeper tissues that are pulled as a result of the stretching motion. Tumor growth in the stretched animals was then compared with that in control animals that didn’t undergo daily stretching exercises.
The mice were randomized to either stretch or not stretch, and then treated for 10 minutes once a day, for four weeks. The mice’s gentle stretching involved lifting the animals gently by the tail, while allowing their front paws to grasp a bar. Mice can quickly become accustomed to holding this position for 10 minutes at a time, without evidence of discomfort.
The tumor volume at the end of the study found that it was 52% smaller in the stretch group compared to the group of mice that did not stretch.
These results suggest a link between immune exhaustion, inflammation resolution and tumor growth. Stretching is a gentle, non-pharmacological intervention that could become a critical component of cancer treatment and prevention.
However, the authors do acknowledge that the stretching regimen didn’t factor that mild stress may also be relevant. Although the animals were not suspended, they were restrained by the tail, which may cause a low level of stress. Some muscle activity is also needed to maintain the stretched position.
“We therefore cannot rule out that mild stress may have contribute[d] to the beneficial effect of stretching in the cancer model, similar to the beneficial effect of acute stress during exercise, perhaps in conjunction with tissue stretching” Dr. Langevin says.
The study also points out that this mouse model of stretching, where both the hind limbs and forelimbs are simultaneously extended, is also a core component of yoga poses that are commonly used with cancer patients.
The study comments that “these yoga poses therefore could be a good starting point for developing a stretching protocol to be tested in humans, once preclinical dosing and safety studies have been completed…although the mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of stretching in our mouse breast cancer model remain to be elucidated, our results point to a possible link between inflammation resolution and immune exhaustion mechanisms that could be important in basic cancer biology.”
Wish to read the full article? You can find it on Scientific Reports.
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