Can Tai Chi help manage breast cancer treatment side effects?

Dr Lizhou Liu, up-and-coming researcher at the University of Otago and recipient of our own Belinda Scott Fellowship, is exploring this idea through her study, ANITA.

The study looks at the effectiveness of a 12-week integrative Tai Chi program, which Liu developed, in managing and possibly even reducing side effects of breast cancer treatment. While previous research has shown the ancient Chinese practice can be beneficial to breast cancer survivors this is the first study to investigate what happens if Tai Chi is taken up earlier on – at the beginning of treatment.

If there turns out to be a positive effect, the impact will be huge.

More often than not, breast cancer treatment isn’t smooth sailing – side effects from chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormonal or endocrine therapy, like Tamoxifen, are common and can be brutal. 50% of those on endocrine therapy opt out of their treatment early and, while this increases risk of dying, for many afflicted women and men stopping treatment can seem like the only way forward.

The program is holistic combining Tai Chi classes with monthly peer support and health education. The classes, led by a trained Tai Chi instructor with experience leading people with chronic health issues and post-surgery, are twice weekly and are 60 minutes long. The peer support and health education element will take place at the Otago/Southland Division of the NZ Cancer Society.

The ancient Chinese practice of Tai Chi is textbook mindfulness. Its sweeping, fluid movements focus on strengthening a mind-body connection often lost in the frenetic hum of modern day living.

The low-intensity nature of the art makes it the perfect medium for gently introducing patients to rehabilitation post-surgery. While more dynamic forms of exercise can seem daunting for those with reduced mobility, or who find it uncomfortable to carry weight, Tai Chi is non-threatening and easily accessible (many community recreation centres offer it for free).

Recruitment for ANITA began in late August and the program officially launched earlier this week at Dunedin Public Hospital. If you’re interested in taking part, please contact Dr Lizhou Liu. Participants must have completed breast cancer surgery in the last month and be waiting for, or currently undergoing chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or hormonal therapy.

This is one of the many research projects we're funding to help actively support patients and develop more effective breast cancer treatments. In 2018 we'll be making $1.26 million available for innovative new projects.

Contact Information:
Principal Investigator Dr Lizhou Liu
Centre for Health, Activity and Rehabilitation Research
School of Physiotherapy, University of Otago
Phone: (03) 479 5694
lizhou.liu@otago.ac.nz

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