Contrary to traditional medical advice that rest is
the best medicine for fatigue caused by treatment
for breast cancer, the largest study of its kind found that exercise improves
physical functioning and weight control for many patients. Researchers in Canada
found that women undergoing treatment for early-stage breast cancer who
maintained a regular exercise program of hour-long walking sessions 3 to 5 times
per week for 6 months had a significant improvement in cardiac conditioning
and overall functioning.
As reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (19:657-665,
2001), the randomized study of 123 patients concluded that women who exercised
on their own in a "self-directed" exercise program increased physical
functioning by 5.7 points on a standard scale of 100 points, and those who
exercised in supervised groups gained 2.2 points in functioning.
Comparatively, researchers found that inactivity contributed to the debilitation
of patients in a control group who followed the traditional medical advice of
little or no exercise during cancer treatmentthis group actually lost an
average of 4.1 points in their physical functioning. The findings were
consistent across all patient subgroups, whether they received chemotherapy,
hormonal treatments, or radiation therapy.
"Breast cancer patients receiving adjuvant therapy,
including chemotherapy, are willing, and quite capable, of participating in
exercise. Even moderate physical activity was meaningful, resulting in an
increased ability to function and feel independent," said the study’s
lead author, Roanne Segal, MD, medical director of the oncology rehabilitation
program at Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre.
The investigators were surprised to find that women who
exercised on their own had better aerobic results than women who participated in
a group-supervised exercise program. The difference, Dr. Segal speculated, could
be attributable to the fact that patients who exercised within a medical setting
were more restrained, compared to women who exercised as they liked at home.
In addition, she pointed out that patients who were using
tamoxifen (Nolvadex) as hormonal therapy, which can increase weight in some
women, had the greatest weight reduction of all participants following exercisean
average of 2 to 8 lb.