Increasing Survival of Breast Cancer Through Exercise
For Women with Breast Cancer, Regular Exercise May Improve Survival
A new study adds to existing evidence linking physical activity with longer survival in women diagnosed with high-risk breast cancer. Women who engaged in regular physical activity before their cancer diagnosis and after treatment were less likely to have their cancer come back (recur) or to die compared with those who were inactive, the study found.
The study was unusual in that it collected information on the physical activity levels of women with high-risk breast cancer (cancer that is likely to recur or spread) at multiple time points, shortly before their diagnosis, during chemotherapy, and after completion of treatment. While survival was extended in women who consistently met federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans over time compared with those who did not meet the guidelines, there was still a survival advantage for women who were active but didn’t quite meet the guidelines.
“This study gives us further evidence that being more physically active after a diagnosis of breast cancer is one of the ways that breast cancer survivors can take matters into their hands and improve their health and decrease their likelihood of dying,” said Kathryn Schmitz, Ph.D., M.P.H., an exercise oncology researcher at the Penn State College of Medicine, who also was not involved with the study.
The guidelines recommend that adults engage:
- In at least 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity per week.
- 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week.
Women with breast cancer who met the minimum physical activity guidelines both before diagnosis and at the 2-year follow-up (after treatment) had a 55% reduced chance of their cancer returning and a 68% reduced chance of death from any cause (not just breast cancer) compared with those who did not meet the guidelines at both times.
These findings “are good news for breast cancer patients, who can be overwhelmed by the physical activity guidelines, especially during treatment,” when they may be severely fatigued or in pain, Dr. Cannioto said. However, she emphasized, to achieve optimal health benefits, patients and survivors should still strive to meet the guidelines when they are able.
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