Breast Cancer :: Exercise improves life for breast cancer survivors

Women getting over breast cancer treatment who engage in aerobic and resistance training exercises may have better physical fitness and better quality-of-life than their more sedentary counterparts, new study findings show.

Previous studies have shown that cancer patients and cancer survivors can increase their physical work capacity and can improve their tolerance to physical fatigue by using treadmills, walking outdoors or otherwise engaging in cardiorespiratory exercise training. Whether strength-building resistance training adds further benefit has been less well studied, however.

Dr. Alejandro Lucia, of the Universidad Europea de Madrid, Spain, and colleagues looked at the combined effect of a training program involving both cardiorespiratory and resistance exercises in women breast cancer survivors.

The investigators randomly assigned 16 women to an exercise training group or a comparison group in which the women continued their usual activity pattern. The training group participated in three 90-minute sessions per week, during which they performed exercises ranging from chest and shoulder presses to stomach crunches and leg and arm curls.

By the end of the eight-week study period, women in the exercise group showed improvements in their quality-of-life, based on their scores on a 30-item questionnaire.

Their cardiorespiratory fitness also improved, as evidenced by their improved oxygen uptake, the researchers report in the International Journal of Sports Medicine. Moreover, the women gained strength and muscle function, in comparison to their performance on tests conducted before the start of the training sessions.

“These findings are of relevance as previous research has shown that long-term fatigue … with subsequent decreases in quality of life is also a serious problem for cancer survivors, as up to 30% may experience this symptom for years after termination of treatment,” the researchers write.

Women in the comparison, non-exercising group did not show improvements in their quality-of-life or their physical functioning, the results indicate.

“Our data, together with those of previous research with cancer patients/survivors emphasize the beneficial effects of exercise programs in this population,” Lucia and colleagues conclude.

SOURCE: International Journal of Sports Medicine, July 2006.

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