A new online platform that provides breast cancer patients with physical “telerehabilitation” may help to improve their quality of life by easing lingering symptoms related to the disease and its treatment, including, pain, fatigue, and reduced muscle strength.
The study describing the platform and its effects in breast cancer survivors was published in Cancer, and is titled “Telehealth system: A randomized controlled trial evaluating the impact of an internet-based exercise intervention on quality of life, pain, muscle strength, and fatigue in breast cancer survivors.” It suggests that telerahabilitation can be an effective part of cancer care.
Improvements in breast cancer treatment are not necessarily accompanied by quality of life improvements among cancer survivors, studies have shown, with patients often reporting that treatments negatively affect their daily lives.
Physical activity seems to provide health benefits, suggesting that exercise-based rehabilitation programs should be included in cancer care. But several barriers, including distance from a rehabilitation center, time restraints and cost considerations limit wide implementation of these programs.
Technological advancements can help overcome such barriers.
Researchers with the University of Granada (UGR) and nearby hospitals developed a telerehabilitation system, called e-CUIDATE (cuídate mean to “take care”), that has yielded promising results in breast cancer survivors. The program was able to control patients disease-related side effects with sustained benefits for six months after its completion.
The study enrolled 81 participants who had completed adjuvant therapy (except hormone treatment) for breast cancers that ranged from stage 1 to 3A, or early to somewhat advanced. Participants were randomly assigned in roughly equal numbers to a tailored, eight-week internet exercise program or to a control exercise group.
Patients assigned to the online program had three weekly sessions, each about 90 minutes. The sessions ran through battery of specific exercises, divided into warm-ups, resistance and aerobic training, and cool-down periods. Each was tailored to the individual patient’s needs, whether fatigue, pain or muscular strength.
Participants also were also requested to ask questions or give suggestions regarding their program, and could send direct messages or set up video conference sessions (three times per week) with the CUIDATE staff, allowing the researchers to monitor each participant’s performance remotely.
The control group received basic exercise recommendations in a written format.
Results showed that after the intervention, the telerehabilitation group had significantly improved scores for global health status, physical, role and cognitive functioning, pain severity, total fatigue, and muscular strength (including core and backs muscles, and affected-side and nonaffected-side handgrip) compared to the control group. Except for role functioning, pain severity, and nonaffected-side handgrip, all these findings were maintained at follow-up after six months.
“The participants have ameliorated their pain, strength, fatigue and quality of life, which reflects that an eight-week exercise program followed through the internet can be successfully carried out without the need for a in-person therapeutic strategy,” Noelia Galiano Castillo, with the UGR department of Physical Therapy and the study’s main author, said in a press release.