Benefits of Exercise during Treatment
Warning: you may not like these articles. It is pretty tough to force yourself to stick with an exercise routine anytime, and it is much harder during chemotherapy. During my first breast cancer treatment in 1993, I was a daily runner. I clearly remember running more and more slowly and then stopping when my radiated breast became too uncomfortable. As it healed, I hit the road again, but still at a slower than usual pace. In 2005, while going through chemotherapy for the second breast cancer, I went to the gym every morning before work. It would be over-stating the truth to say that I engaged in a real work out every morning, but I got myself there and enjoyed what was then (sadly no longer true) a very friendly, social, and supportive scene. Each time, I continued with the exercise because it helped me hold on to "normal" and because it made me feel a little bit better.
There have been a number of recent studies suggesting that people who adhere to a mild to moderate exercise routine recover more quickly after treatment ends and may even reduce the recurrence rate of some cancers. This study from The Netherlands Cancer Institute, as reported in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, fully supports this wisdom with a twist: they looked at women who exercised during treatment. Of particular interest is the fact that that women who sustained a more intense work-out did better than those who exercised more moderately. Make of that what you will; one obvious possibility is that those women were generally more healthy/strong than the others.
On a related but slightly different topic, I just read a third article that described a better return to work rate by women who exercised throughout chemotherapy. Common sense suggests a number of possible reasons for that finding.
Here is the start and then a link to two different reports. They do focus on different aspects of the study.
Physical exercise helps women with breast cancer to better tolerate chemotherapy
NETHERLANDS CANCER INSTITUTE
Women with breast cancer who follow a physical exercise program during their chemotherapy treatment
experience less side effects like fatigue, reduced physical fitness, nausea and pain. It is also less often
necessary to adjust the dosage of their chemotherapy. This is shown by a study supervised by prof. dr. Neil
Aaronson of the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI).
Chemotherapy can be very burdensome for patients. Because of the side effects, not all patients are able to
complete their chemotherapy as originally planned, but require a dose adjustment. There are some
indications that physical exercise might help reduce these side effects. Neil Aaronson of the NKI was
interested in determining which type of physical exercise programs are most effective, and whether such
programs can also help patients better tolerate their chemotherapy. He investigated these issues in a group of women with breast cancer who received adjuvant chemotherapy. The research project, nicknamed PACES,was for a large part carried out by PhD student Hanna van Waart of Aaronson's research group, in close collaboration with the Physical Therapy department of the NKI. The results of the project are now published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Exercise pumps up chemotherapy completion rates for breast cancer patients
By: JENNIFER KELLY SHEPPHIRD, Oncology Practice Digital Network
Compared with usual care, a moderate- to high-intensity exercise intervention had beneficial effects on chemotherapy completion rates, symptom burden, and return-to-work rates among women with breast cancer who were undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy, according to a study published online
April 27 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
For the multicenter Physical Exercise During Adjuvant Chemotherapy Effectiveness Study (PACES), 230 women (mean age 51 years) with breast cancer who were undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy were randomized to participate in a high- to moderate-intensity exercise program supervised by
physical therapists (n = 76), a low-intensity home-based program (n = 77), or the usual care group (n = 77).