Some treatments for breast cancer are highly effective, but almost all patients suffer side-effects that range from unpleasant to life-threatening. Some affect quality of life on a daily basis – fatigue, sleep disturbance, nausea and vomiting, anxiety and depression. The ongoing physical side-effects can include reduced bone density (potentially leading to osteoporosis) and cardiac problems.
For some patients, the severity of these side-effects leads them to cut short the treatment designed to prevent their cancer coming back.
There is growing evidence overseas that tai chi improves wellbeing and physical health of breast cancer survivors, but so far, researchers haven’t studied tai chi used during active treatment to improve tolerability of drugs and other treatments. And there have been no New Zealand-based studies of tai chi in cancer patients or survivors.
Lizhou Liu will conduct a six-month pilot study of tai chi with breast cancer patients at Dunedin Hospital. Her goal is to understand how acceptable the exercise is to patients, defining clinical measures of effectiveness, and discern whether tai chi has any negative effects. If the pilot proves successful, Ms Liu would aim to get a larger trial underway.
“I see this project as a chance to look at how we can add a complementary therapy into conventional breast cancer treatment here in New Zealand,” said Lizhou Liu. “My hope is that this study will be of real help to Kiwi women.”