Cancer Treatment and Balance

There are few things in this world as terrifying as finding out that you or a loved one has cancer. Then comes the often excruciating treatment. Even after treatment, many cancer patients suffer with the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. There is evidence that some patients who receive chemotherapy and/or radiation suffer from impaired balance. Tai Chi may help improve balance in these patients.

For example, there is evidence that Nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) patients who receive radiation treatment suffer from radiation-induced inner ear damage. The inner ear houses the vestibular system which is responsible for balance. Therefore, damage to your inner ear can lead to impaired balance. Studies have shown that Tai Chi helps improve balance in patients with vestibular impairments. Some NPC patients who had radiotherapy have problems maintaining a single leg stance compared to healthy adults who have not had radiotherapy.


Additionally, some studies have shown that breast cancer patients who have had chemotherapy have “increased postural instability in bipedal stance compared” to their counterparts who have not had chemotherapy. Cancer patients who receive treatment with the class of chemotherapy drugs called “taxanes” also complain of peripheral neuropathy. (Read more about that here).  Peripheral neuropathy affects patients’ ability to feel their legs and hence impact their ability to maintain firm on the ground.

Patients who undergo chemotherapy also appear to suffer from the disruption of their peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is the system outside your brain. It allows your brain to communicate with the rest of your body. A disruption in this system leads to impaired balance because it affects your ability to visually and intellectually asses your surroundings and then move in response to your surroundings. It also affects your ability to feel with your feet and prove your brain with information to make judgments on how to move. Other cancer patients also suffer from visual disturbances as a result of treatment.

Basically,  there are “chemotherapy-related peripheral nervous system disorders (e.g., sensorimotor neuropathy, somatosensory, visual, and vestibular deficits” and some radiation-related deficits as well.

Tai Chi has been shown to help people who suffer from peripheral neuropathy feel firm on their feet. It has also been successful in treating vestibular disorders. One study showed that NPC patients who practiced Tai Chi were able to achieve a similar one leg stance to healthy individuals. This is believed to be the development of greater somatosensory responses. For example, the Tai Chi participants had “better knee and ankle joint proprioception that might have resulted in better balance control” during the one-leg stance. Scientists believe that where one sense is impaired, the other senses overcompensate to get the same job done. Therefore, Tai Chi training may help those with impaired senses train their other senses to step in.

Therefore, if you have had treatment for cancer or have otherwise had some form of sensory impairment, consider trying Tai Chi to retrain your body.



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