Physical exercise can help to reduce some of the negative side effects of breast cancer treatment, according to a study recently published in the
Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women in the United States, with approximately 200,000 cases diagnosed each year. Depending on the extent of the cancer, some women may benefit from adjuvant therapy. Adjuvant therapy is a treatment that is added to increase the effectiveness of a primary therapy. Adjuvant therapy may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biologic therapy or hormonal therapy. These adjuvant treatments can be administered alone or in combination after surgery to increase the chances of curing the cancer or prolonging a remission.
Adjuvant therapy is often associated with side effects such as fatigue, nausea, anxiety and depression. As a result, women often discontinue physical activity in an effort to cope with the side effects. However, this inactivity can actually sometimes exacerbate their condition, causing a decline in physical functioning.
Researchers at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre conducted a study to evaluate the effects of exercise on physical functioning and quality of life during adjuvant therapy. The study included 123 women with stages I and II breast cancer who were divided into three groups: usual care, self-directed exercise intervention, and supervised exercise intervention. Participants in the usual care group received general advice from their oncologist regarding the benefits of exercise. The self-directed exercise participants received a home exercise plan and were asked to exercise 5 times a week for 26 weeks. The supervised exercise group participated in a supervised exercise program 3 times a week for 26 weeks. The exercise consisted of moderate-level aerobic activity such as brisk walking.
Both the self-directed exercisers and the supervised exercisers experienced a significant improvement in physical functioning and aerobic capacity. These groups of women were able to participate in physical activity while undergoing adjuvant therapy, without any reported adverse effects from the activity. The researchers evaluated the data for all women and also evaluated the data based on whether participants were receiving chemotherapy. Of the 123 women, 83 were receiving chemotherapy. While both exercising groups experienced improved physical functioning and aerobic capacity, these gains were slightly lower in women receiving chemotherapy.
The researchers concluded that physical exercise can help diminish the negative side effects of breast cancer treatment, including reduced physical functioning, thus, improving quality of life for these patients. More research is needed to further define the long-term effects of exercise intervention. This particular group of researchers is currently collecting follow-up data in order to further examine the long-term effects of exercise for patients receiving adjuvant therapy.
Women with stage I or II breast cancer who are receiving adjuvant therapy may wish to speak with their physician about the risks and benefits of an exercise regimen as well as the possibility of participating in a clinical trial designed to evaluate promising therapies. (Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 19, No 3, pp. 657-665, 2001)