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Cancer and Taoist Tai Chi® arts

If you have cancer or are in recovery, you know that it can be a very stressful, difficult time. You may be managing pain, worry, fatigue, insomnia, and reduced mobility as well as recovering from surgery. All of this can certainly affect your enjoyment of life.

Fortunately, research and anecdotal evidence shows that Tai Chi helps people through cancer recovery. With Taoist Tai Chi® practice many find they can reduce pain, increase energy, and move more freely. In addition, people practicing Taoist Tai Chi® arts find they have better balance, strength and flexibility, better sleep and a feeling of lightness and well-being.

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Stories of Cancer and Taoist Tai Chi® arts

A woman recovering from breast cancer surgery discusses how Taoist Tai Chi® practice helped her relieve pain, reduce stress, get her lymphatic system working well and “take one day at a time”.

Another person describes terrible, deep pain after lung cancer. Because of her Taoist Tai Chi® practice she is able to throw away all her pain medication, including narcotics and opioids.

In the third video a practitioner, who has had breast cancer twice, describes the difference between her two recoveries. The first was before practicing Taoist Tai Chi® arts, while the other took place after she started. Through the second recovery she felt limber, strong, capable and vital. The contrast between the two experiences is remarkable!

Finally, a man recovering from cancer describes incredible pain relief and increased mobility through his Taoist Tai Chi® practice.

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Research: Tai Chi and Cancer Recovery

There is growing evidence that Tai Chi has an overall positive effect on physical and psychological quality of life among cancer survivors.
  • The researchers found that Tai Chi could improve arm function and strength in breast cancer survivors, positively influence muscular-skeletal function and central nervous systems, and reduce cancer-related fatigue.
  • Tai Chi can also reduce elevated cortisol levels, which are associated with negative effects on immune function and tumour growth, thus improving immune function and reducing tumour activity.
  • Tai Chi practice was associated with increased levels of psychological well-being as well, as practitioners reported that the social aspect of Tai Chi was beneficial to their subjective perceptions of well-being.

Ni, XS., Chan, R.J., Yates, P., et. al. (2019). The effects of Tai Chi on quality of life of cancer survivors: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Supportive Care in Cancer, 27, 3701-3716.

Tai Chi is found to have a significant positive influence on health-related quality of life in women post breast cancer treatment.
  • The Tai Chi group of breast cancer survivors reported improved health-related quality of life and self-esteem at both 6 and 12 weeks after beginning the Tai Chi program while the women in the psychosocial support therapy group actually reported a decline on these measures.

Mustian, K., Katula, J., Gill, D., et. al. (2004). Tai Chi Chuan, health-related quality of life and self-esteem: A randomized trial with breast cancer survivors. Support Care Cancer, 12, 871-876.

Tai Chi is effective for reducing multiple symptoms commonly experienced by cancer survivors.
  • A larger statistically significant improvement was found for fatigue and sleep difficulty, a finding which persisted even compared to other active (vs usual care or waitlist) control groups
  • A smaller statistically significant positive effect was found for quality of life and depression.
  • Patients also reported an improvement in pain relief
  • The authors suggest that the emphasis on the mind-body relationship found in Tai Chi is a key in its effectiveness for treatment

Wayne, PM., Lee, MS., Novakowski, J., et. al. (2018). Tai Chi and Qigong for cancer-related symptoms and quality of life: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 12, 256-267.

Updated evidence on the short-term effectiveness of Tai Chi in improving sleep quality, cognitive function, and quality of life and reducing fatigue, anxiety, stress, and depressive symptoms in cancer patients.
  • Integrative oncology, which addresses cancer treatment by recognizing the mind-body connection and viewing the individual as a whole, is turning more to Tai Chi for treatment methods.
  • This study revealed statistically significant improvements in fatigue and sleep quality and positive trends for anxiety, stress, depressive symptoms, overall quality of life, and cognitive functioning.

Zheng, YC., Xie, XH., and Cheng, ASK. (2019). Qigong or tai chi in cancer care: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Current Oncology Reports, 21(48).

What do practitioners who have had cancer or are managing cancer saying about Taoist Tai Chi® arts?