Tai chi and qigong are forms of mind-body exercise and meditation that may help with symptoms of cancer and side effects of treatments.

How can tai chi or qigong help me? What the research says

We summarize the clinical evidence for each medical benefit here. We begin with our assessment of the strength of evidence within each category, followed by a brief summary of individual studies or reviews of several studies. In assessing the strength of evidence, we consider the study design, number of participants, and the size of the treatment effect (how much outcomes changed with treatment).

Learn more about how we research and rate therapies and practices.

As with other mind-body approachesapproaches that enhance your mind’s capacity to positively affect your body’s function and symptoms. Some interventions focus on calming your mind, improving focus, enhancing decision-making capacity, managing stress, or resolving conflict. Other interventions have a goal of relaxing both your mind and your body., assessing the effectiveness of tai chi and qigong in addressing cancer symptoms can be challenging due to the difficulty in creating controls and placebo conditions.1Ruddy KJ, Stan DL, Bhagra A, Jurisson M, Cheville AL. Alternative exercise traditions in cancer rehabilitation. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America. 2017 Feb;28(1):181-192.

Optimizing your body terrain

Does tai chi or qigong promote an environment within your body that is less supportive of cancer development, growth, or spread? We present the evidence.

Blood sugar and insulin resistance

Good evidencesignificant effects in one large or several mid-sized and well-designed clinical studies (randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with an appropriate placebo or other strong comparison control or observational studies that control for confounds) (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better blood sugar balance among people with or at risk of metabolic syndrome or diabetes practicing tai chi

Hormone imbalance

Good evidence of better cortisol levels among people with cancer practicing either tai chi or qigong

Immune function

Good evidence of slightly better immune function among people with cancer and other people practicing tai chi or qigong

Inflammation

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of a small effect on reducing inflammation among people practicing tai chi or qigong, not specific to people with cancer

Managing side effects and promoting wellness

Is tai chi or qigong linked to fewer or less severe side effects or symptoms? Is it linked to less toxicity from cancer treatment? Does it support your quality of life or promote general well-being? We present the evidence.

For research not specific to people with cancer, see Are you a health professional? ›

Anxiety

Modest evidencesignificant effects in at least three small but well-designed randomized controlled trials (RCTs), or one or more well-designed, mid-sized clinical studies of reasonably good quality (RCTs or observational studies), or several small studies aggregated into a meta-analysis (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less anxiety among people with breast cancer practicing either tai chi or qigong

Blood-related side effects

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of a smaller decrease in white blood cell counts and hemoglobin from chemotherapy among people with non-Hodgkin lymphoma participating in a Chan-Chuang qigong program

Preliminary evidence of less blood clotting among people with peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) practicing simplified tai chi exercises

Breathlessness

Preliminary evidence of less breathlessness among people with lung cancer practicing qigong

Changes in appetite

Modest evidence of better appetite among people with cancer practicing qigong

Cognitive difficulties

Modest evidence of better cognitive function among people with cancer practicing medical qigong

Depression or mood disturbance

Modest evidence of fewer depressive symptoms or mood disturbance among people with cancer practicing either tai chi or qigong

Fatigue

Strong evidenceconsistent, significant effects in several large (or at least one very large) well designed clinical studies or at least two meta-analyses of clinical studies of moderate or better quality (or one large meta-analysis) finding similar results (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less fatigue without regard to treatment phase among people with cancer practicing qigong or tai chi

Modest evidence of less fatigue during cancer treatment among people with breast cancer practicing tai chi

Preliminary evidence of less fatigue during chemotherapy among people with colorectal cancer practicing Baduanjin qigong

Good evidencesignificant effects in one large or several mid-sized and well-designed clinical studies (randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with an appropriate placebo or other strong comparison control or observational studies that control for confounds) (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less cancer-related fatigue after cancer treatment among people practicing tai chi

Gastrointestinal symptoms

Modest evidence of less diarrhea or irregular defecation among people with cancer practicing qigong

Lymphedema

Preliminary evidence of less lymphedema after surgery among people with breast cancer practicing qigong

Neurological symptoms

Modest evidence of less neuropathy among people with cancer practicing qigong

Pain

Modest evidence of less pain without regard to treatment phase among people with cancer practicing either tai chi or qigong

Preliminary evidence of less pain during chemotherapy among people practicing qigong or tai chi

Physical function

Good evidence of improved strength and function among people with cancer, mostly breast cancer, practicing tai chi

Preliminary evidence of better functional well-being among people with lung cancer practicing qigong

Quality of life or global health status

Good evidence of better quality of life without regard to treatment phase among people with cancer practicing qigong or tai chi

Modest evidence of better quality of life during conventional cancer treatment among people practicing tai chi

Weak evidenceone or more case studies, supported by animal evidence OR small treatment effects of limited clinical significance OR studies with no controls OR weak trends of effects (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of better health-related quality of life after completing cancer treatment among women with breast cancer practicing Tai Chi Chuan

No evidence of an effectoverall, one or more studies did not demonstrate that a treatment or intervention led to an expected outcome; this does not always mean that there is no effect in clinical practice, but that the studies may have been underpowered (too few participants) or poorly designed. Larger, well-designed studies provide more confidence in making assessments. on quality of life among people with terminal cancer practicing tai chi or qigong in a combined analysis of studies

Sleep disruption

Modest evidence of less sleep disruption without regard to treatment phase among people with cancer practicing tai chi or qigong

Good evidence of better sleep quality during or after cancer treatment among people with cancer practicing tai chi or qigong

Stress

Good evidence of lower markers of stress among people with cancer practicing tai chi or qigong

Other symptoms and side effects

Preliminary evidence of less cough among people with lung cancer practicing qigong

Symptoms and side effects not specific to cancer

Modest evidence of less body fat among people with or at risk of metabolic syndrome practicing tai chi

Preliminary evidence of less severe depression among people with clinical depression practicing qigong but not tai chi

Modest evidence of better sleep quality scores among older people practicing tai chi or qigong

Preliminary evidence of lower perceived stress levels in older adults practicing tai chi

Resources

Keep reading about tai chi or qigong

Author

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Reviewer

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Last update: October 7, 2022

Last full literature review: May 2021

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.

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