Copyright © 2021 Natural Medicines (
September 2013

Qi gong May Benefit Women Receiving Breast Cancer Treatment

Qi gong may help improve quality of life in women who are undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer, a study reports.

In breast cancer, some cells begin growing abnormally. The cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells and may spread through the breast tissue to the lymph nodes or other parts of the body (metastasize). The most common type of breast cancer begins in the milk-producing ducts, but cancer may also occur in the lobules or in other breast tissue. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in American women.

The incidence of breast cancer varies with age being very low in the twenties, gradually increasing and reaching a plateau at the age of 45 and then increasing dramatically after fifty. Breast cancer is diagnosed in women over 65 years 50% of the time, indicating the ongoing necessity for women to have yearly screenings.

Treatments exist for every type and stage of breast cancer. Most women will have surgery and an additional (adjuvant) therapy such as radiation, chemotherapy or hormone therapy. Treatment for breast cancer depends on the type and stage of cancer, age, risk factors, the size and shape of the breasts, and the patient's feelings about their body. Treatment usually begins within a few weeks after diagnosis. Unless the cancer is detected at an extremely advanced stage and life is in immediate jeopardy, generally there is time to get a second opinion and discuss the various treatment options such as a combination of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

Radiation may cause side effects that reduce quality of life. Integrative therapies such as qi gong may help offset these effects. Qi gong is a modality of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It is composed of a variety of energy-based healing practices based on Taoist philosophy and principles of Chinese medical theory. Qi gong is based on the traditional Chinese belief that the human body contains a network of energy pathways through which vital energy, called qi (also called chi, or vital energy) circulates. In Mandarin Chinese, Qi gong means "breath work/technique." Qi gong is the art of managing the breath to achieve and maintain good health and to enhance the stamina of the body in coordination with the physical process of respiration.

In the current study, the researchers set out to determine if qi gong may affect quality of life in women who are receiving radiation treatment for breast cancer. They recruited a total of 96 women who were randomly assigned to either a control group or to a qi gong group, which attended five classes weekly for 5-6 weeks of radiation therapy. The authors noted any changes in quality of life outcomes, including symptoms of depression, fatigue, and sleep problems.

The results suggested that women in the qi gong group reported fewer symptoms of depression over time, compared to those in the control group. Subjects who had higher depressive symptoms at the onset of radiation therapy reported that they experienced less fatigue and better overall quality of life. Significant differences in sleep quality were lacking between the two groups.

The scientists concluded that qi gong may benefit women with breast cancer who are receiving radiation therapy, particularly those who experience depressive symptoms before undergoing therapy. More research is needed to better understand and confirm these findings.

For more information about qi gong, please visit Natural Standard's Health & Wellness Database.


  1. Chen Z, Meng Z, Milbury K, et al. Qi gong improves quality of life in women undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer: results of a randomized controlled trial. Cancer. 2013 May 1;119(9):1690-8. doi: 10.1002/cncr.27904. Epub 2013 Jan 25. 
  2. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2021 Natural Medicines Inc. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. Natural Medicines is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.