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Health & Exercise Forum

Exercise May Improve Breast Cancer Survival

Mar 11, 2009

Dr. Paul MackareyIn honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the Susan B. Komen “Race for the Cure,” I would like to share some very encouraging current research regarding improve breast cancer survival with exercise. I have discussed this research with local physicians, Dr. Joseph Bannon, Delta Medix Breast Care Center, and Dr. Richard Emanuelson, Hematology and Oncology Associates of NEPA, for their impressions with these findings. Both physicians state that they regularly council their patients about the value of exercise in the recovery of breast cancer. They usually recommend aerobic exercise such as walking and/or biking and mild resistance exercise. They also emphasize that a formal rehabilitation program is often necessary if surgery was performed to prevent frozen shoulder of the involved extremity. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association from Harvard now shows that regular exercise can actually improve the survival of patients with breast cancer.

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 Value – builds confidence, fosters control, develops new skills
  • promotes health mind, body, & spirit

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.

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 on the affected side during exercise

This year when your warming up at the starting line to walk or run in the “Race for the Cure,” remember you are literally “RACING FOR THE CURE!”

Visit your doctor regularly, and listen to your body.