Mercy College Associate Professor Studies Benefits of Yoga as Treatment for Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema

Kathy Ryans headshot

Kathryn Ryans, PT, DPT, associate professor of physical therapy, co-director of clinical education in the Mercy College Doctor of Physical Therapy Program and a board-certified clinical specialist in oncologic physical therapy, recently published an article in the Academy of Oncologic Physical Therapy journal Rehabilitation Oncology. The article, entitled “Effect of Yoga Among Women at Risk and With Breast Cancer-Related Lymphedema: A Systematic Review,” which was co-written with four physical therapist colleagues, examines the practice of yoga as a way to treat patients with breast cancer-related lymphedema. 

Breast cancer-related lymphedema presents as abnormal swelling in the arm or chest because of breast cancer treatment. This condition can occur at any point in survivorship and can affect the individual’s quality of life, both physically and psychologically. 

“There's a lot of research on the benefits of exercise for oncology patients and the benefits of yoga for the general population, but the research related to yoga for patients with breast cancer-related lymphedema is lacking,” said Ryans. “So, our research group thought it was important to further investigate yoga’s safety and potential benefits for this patient population.” 

This same group of physical therapists published a clinical practice guideline in 2020 on interventions for breast cancer-related lymphedema. Yoga was one of the interventions evaluated. However, that clinical practice guideline only examined arm volume as an outcome measure — not each intervention’s effect on strength, function, range of motion and overall quality of life. 

This time, the co-authors conducted a systematic review on the topic. They examined 132 studies published between 2010 and 2021, nine of which met the inclusion criteria. After reviewing the studies, they found that participation in yoga does have a positive effect on arm range of motion, strength, function and quality of life for women at risk for and with breast cancer–related lymphedema — with no documented safety concerns. 

To learn more about Associate Professor Kathy Ryans, please click here and here.  

To learn more about the Mercy College Physical Therapy Program, please click here.