Exercise Program Benefits Women with Early Breast Cancer

Exercise Program Benefits Women with Early Breast Cancer

According to the results of a study published in the British Medical Journal, participation in a 12-week supervised group exercise program provided physical and psychological benefits to women undergoing treatment for early breast cancer.

Early-stage breast refers to cancer that is either confined to the breast or that has not spread beyond the axillary (underarm) lymph nodes. While some early-stage breast cancers are effectively treated with surgery and radiation therapy alone, others (particularly those that have spread to nearby lymph nodes) also require systemic treatments such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, or targeted therapy.

Several previous studies have suggested that the risk of developing breast cancer may be reduced by regular physical activity. Some studies have also suggested that exercise during cancer treatment may lessen fatigue and emotional distress.

To further explore the effects of physical activity in women undergoing treatment for early breast cancer, researchers in Scotland conducted a study among 203 women with Stage 0 to Stage III breast cancer. Women were ineligible for the study if they already engaged in regular physical activity. Half the women participated in a 12-week, supervised group exercise program in addition to usual care, and half the women received usual care alone.

The exercise program consisted of two classes and one at-home exercise session each week. The classes lasted for 45 minutes and involved a warm-up period of 5-10 minutes; 20 minutes of exercise such as walking, cycling, or muscle strengthening activities; and a cool-down and relaxation period.

  • At the three- and six-months assessments, women who had participated in the exercise program were able to walk farther and had better shoulder mobility than the women who did not participate in the exercise program.
  • Women who participated in the exercise program also scored higher on a measure of positive mood.
  • Women who participated in the exercise program reported fewer nights in the hospital and fewer visits to their primary care provider than women who did not participate in the exercise program.
  • There was no significant effect of the exercise program on an overall measure of quality of life.

The researchers conclude that the supervised group exercise program evaluated in this study provided functional and psychological benefits to women undergoing treatment for early breast cancer.

Reference: Mutrie N, Campbell AM, Whyte F et al. Benefit of supervised group exercise programme for women being treated for early stage breast cancer: pragmatic randomised controlled trial. British Medical Journal [online publication]. February 16, 2007.

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