by Christine Hensel Triantos
For most breast cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment or chemotherapy, moderate exercise isn’t just acceptable, it’s encouraged. Exercise such as walking or resistance training can heighten energy levels, enhance cardiovascular health, strengthen muscles, and boost self-esteem. It can also help decrease anxiety, depression, fatigue, and possibly even the risk of breast cancer recurrence.
Generally, your goal should be to stay as active as possible. The intensity and frequency of exercise will vary among patients, though moderate walking is usually considered safe for most women. If you haven’t been physically active recently, you’ll want to start a program slowly, after talking with your care team. But if exercise has been a regular part of your weekly routine, ask your oncologist about resuming aerobic and strength-training activities.
A modest investment of time can yield important long-term results. Research suggests that women who walk three to five hours per week may have a lower risk of breast cancer recurrence. Although we do not know whether exercise directly causes an improved outcome, similar results have been seen in a number of studies.
“Some studies suggest that exercise could make the body more hostile to breast cancer,” says Jennifer Ligibel, MD, medical oncologist in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers at Dana-Farber, who conducts research studies that measure the benefit of exercise. “After a cancer diagnosis, people who exercise seem to do better both during and after treatment.”
Moderate exercise can also reduce side effects of treatment. Carefully supervised strength training programs treatment. Carefully supervised strength training programs treatment. Carefully supervised strength training programs relieve lymphedema, a swelling in the arms that can develop when the lymph nodes are removed or blocked. Physical activity can also offset weight gain that might occur during treatment.
Exercise can help reduce joint pain associated with aromatase inhibitors, which are frequently given to post-menopausal women who have hormone receptorpositive breast cancer. The Hormone and Physical Exercise (HOPE) Study, for which Dr. Ligibel served as senior author, revealed that daily aerobic exercise combined with strength training can significantly reduce joint pain caused by these drugs.
Courtesy of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute