Breast Cancer Study Finds Exercise During Chemo Can Become Long-term Habit

Breast Cancer Study Finds Exercise During Chemo Can Become Long-term Habit

Breast and colon cancer patients who exercise during their chemotherapy program are more likely to remain physically active long term than those receiving usual care, a trial shows.

Four years after entering an 18-week exercise program, patients also showed a tendency toward being less fatigued. But the difference was not statistically significant.

Researchers presented the findings at the Cancer Survivorship Symposium in Orlando, Florida, Feb. 16-17. The poster session was titled “Four-year effects of physical exercise during adjuvant treatment on fatigue and physical activity in breast and colon cancer patients.”

“It is well known that exercise during chemotherapy can lessen treatment-related side effects, such as fatigue, pain, and nausea,” Dr. Anne M. May, an associate professor at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands, said in a press release. “Our study is the first to show that people who are physically active during treatment maintain higher levels of physical activity in the long run, and this is really important for their health and well-being,” said May, the lead author of the research.

The Dutch PACT study (NTR2138) was designed to determine if exercise during chemotherapy could reduce patients’ treatment-related side effects. It included 204 breast cancer patients and 33 colon cancer patients who were receiving chemotherapy after having surgery for their disease. Seventy percent of patients were also receiving radiation therapy.

The exercise program consisted of 60 minutes of moderate to high-intensity aerobic and strength training twice a week, and 30 minutes of physical activity at home three times a week. A physical therapist supervised the fitness center training.

The program included cognitive behavior aimed at increasing patients’ confidence to be physically active.

Researchers had already discovered that the program reduced fatigue in the short term. This time they wanted to see if those who completed the program remained physically active after four years. One hundred twenty-eight of the initial 204 patients completed the survey.

After four years, patients in the exercise program maintained a more active life style than those who received standard care, researchers found. They engaged in moderate to vigorous activity 90 minutes a day, versus 70 minutes for those who received standard care.

Patients in the chemo exercise group also showed a trend toward less fatigue.

“The exercise program was designed to keep patients physically active long term, so we’re really pleased to see that even four years later people who received the intervention were still more active,” May said.

Additional studies need to be done on whether exercise can reduce the long-term side effects of cancer treatments, the researchers said. Studies of exercise programs in other cancer types are also needed, they said.

“Exercise during chemotherapy might be a promising strategy for minimizing treatment-related side effects both in the short and long term,” the researchers wrote.

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