Exercise can be critically important to boosting the health and recovery of breast cancer survivors, but many aren’t getting enough to benefit.
That’s the key conclusion of a new study by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center who found few women who’ve undergone treatment for breast cancer meet national exercise recommendations during the 10 years after being diagnosed.
Past studies have found a strong association between physical activity and longevity of breast cancer patients, as well as a higher quality of life, the researchers noted. Nearly 3 million breast cancer survivors live in the U.S. and another 80,000 are diagnosed annually.
"The American Cancer Society recommends that cancer survivors exercise for at least 150 minutes per week. Most survivors may also benefit from strength training exercises at least two days per week," said Caitlin Mason, a research fellow in the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutch who helped conduct the study, published online in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.
"For survivors who have not been previously active, we advise that they gradually work up to these recommendations."
For the study, researchers tracked the exercise habits of 631 breast cancer survivors, ages 18-64, from New Mexico, Los Angeles County, and western Washington for 10 years. Prior to diagnosis, 34 percent of the women met U.S. physical activity guidelines, the results showed. The percentage of women who complied with the activity guidelines increased to 39.5 percent at five years, but then dropped to 21.4 percent at 10 years.
Overall, fewer than 8 percent of the survivors met U.S. physical activity guidelines at all of the study time points. Researchers, who could not identify specific reasons for the decline in activity levels, said more needs to be done to encourage breast cancer patients to recognize the connection between exercise, recovery, and longevity.
"Our inability to identify many significant predictors of long-term physical activity participation suggests that the factors influencing physical activity behaviors in breast cancer survivors are complex and may differ from those in the general population," the authors wrote. "Additional consideration of psychosocial factors and issues related to pain management, fatigue, and specific treatment effects may help to better understand the unique issues faced by cancer survivors and their impact on physical activity participation."
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
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