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Health & Exercise Forum

Exercise May Improve Breast Cancer Survival

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Oct 11, 2021

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and there is good news to report!

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association from Harvard has found that regular exercise can improve the survival of patients with breast cancer. I have discussed these findings with local physician, Dr. Christopher Peters of Northeast Radiation Oncology Center and he says that he regularly councils his patients about the value of exercise in the recovery from breast cancer. As found in the study, he recommends aerobic exercise such as walking and/or biking and mild resistance exercise. He also encourages patients to enroll in a formal rehabilitation program, especially to prevent a frozen shoulder if invasive surgery was performed.

Previous studies have shown many benefits of exercise for breast cancer patients including improving immune functioning and controlling depression. However, new research recently presented at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting was the first report to conclude that physical exercise may improve survival in breast cancer patients. Additional studies have shown other benefits of exercise. For example, a study conducted at Vanderbilt University found that women who had high activity levels throughout life were less likely to develop endometrial cancer. At the Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, researchers found that exercise with moderate intensity can reduce serum markers of inflammation (C-reactive protein), which, when elevated, are associated with chronic disease and poor cancer survival.

In the current study, conducted at Harvard University, researchers compared survival rates in women with breast cancer with exercise levels in terms of metabolic equivalent (MET) hours per week. While women with high activity levels of exercise had the best outcomes, even women with moderate exercise benefited.

Benefits of exercise in women with breast cancer:

  • May increase breast cancer survival
  • Lessen risk of endometrial cancer
  • Improved C-reactive protein levels
  • Improve autoimmune function
  • Control Depression
  • Psycho-Social

In conclusion, current research supports the fact that exercise may improve breast cancer survival.  The following guidelines are proposed:

  • Medical Clearance
    • Talk to your physician to get clearance for exercise. Remember, each patient must be individually evaluated by their physician to determine the extent of their problem and the appropriateness for exercise. Once medically cleared, seek the advice of a physical therapist to assess your needs and specifically design a program for you.
  • Aerobic Exercise
    • 3-5 days per week
    • Moderate intensity
    • 20 to 60 minutes
  • Strength Training
    • 2-3 days per week
    • Light to moderate weight
    • Wear a compression sleeve if you have lymphedema (swelling in the affected arm) during exercise

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”  

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.