Long-term study looks at ben­e­fits of ex­er­cise for breast can­cer sur­vivors


A team of Al­berta re­searchers is em­bark­ing on the largest long-term study of its kind look­ing at the link be­tween ex­er­cise and sur­vival rates for breast can­cer pa­tients.

The study, a col­lab­o­ra­tion among sci­en­tists from Al­berta Health Ser­vices, the Univer­sity of Cal­gary, the Univer­sity of Al­berta and Athabasca Univer­sity, will fol­low 1,500 newly di­ag­nosed breast can­cer pa­tients in Al­berta over the next 10 to 15 years to de­ter­mine how fit­ness habits af­fect sur­vival of the dis­ease, abil­ity to tol­er­ate chemo­ther­apy treat­ment, and lev­els of de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety.

The find­ings could prove ground­break­ing for breast can­cer re­search, said Chris­tine Frieden­re­ich, AHS re­search sci­en­tist and ad­junct U of C pro­fes­sor in the fac­ul­ties of ki­ne­si­ol­ogy and medicine.

“What re­ally ex­cites me about this re­search is that it’s a mod­i­fi­able life­style risk fac­tor that peo­ple have some con­trol over,” she said. “Can­cer is al­ways some­thing that peo­ple are very scared of, so this is a way for them to try to re­duce their risk of de­vel­op­ing can­cer and also af­ter can­cer.”

Re­searchers will test the women’s base fit­ness level, and then fol­low up with them one year, three years and five years af­ter di­ag­no­sis.

The sci­en­tists will look at can­cer treat­ment com­ple­tion rates, to see whether ex­er­cis­ing helps pa­tients tol­er­ate chemo­ther­apy and hor­mone ther­apy.

They will also test the women’s blood for breast can­cer biomark­ers, and have them com­plete ques­tion­naires that mea­sure de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, fa­tigue, and fac­tors like age, symp­toms and type of treat­ment that influence their abil­ity to ex­er­cise.

Study par­tic­i­pants will also wear ac­celerom­e­ters to mea­sure phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, which could help the re­searchers de­ter­mine the types of ex­er­cise and in­ten­sity lev­els that best in­crease sur­vival rates.

While past re­search has al­ready found that be­ing phys­i­cally ac­tive af­ter a breast can­cer di­ag­no­sis can help im­prove chances of sur­vival, Frieden- re­ich said those stud­ies re­lied on self-re­ported data. This study is the first of its kind to in­clude both ob­jec­tive and sub­jec­tive mea­sures in breast can­cer pa­tients, which she said is more re­li­able.

Ex­er­cise en­thu­si­ast Bar­bara Mun­roe of Cal­gary, who was di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer in May, said be­ing phys­i­cally fit has helped her heal quickly from a mastectomy.

Keep­ing ac­tive af­ter her di­ag­no­sis has also helped her stay op­ti­mistic while she un­der­goes chemo­ther­apy treat­ment. Stay­ing pos­i­tive “plays a huge role …” she said.

Pa­tients are be­ing re­cruited over the next five years. Women are el­i­gi­ble to en­rol if they are newly di­ag­nosed, un­der the age of 80 and haven’t had a pre­vi­ous can­cer di­ag­no­sis. For more in­for­ma­tion on how to get in­volved, visit www.am­ber­study.com.

The study, called Al­berta Mov­ing Be­yond Breast Can­cer, or AM­BER, is funded by the Cana­dian In­sti­tutes for Health Re­search.

Paul Ritzinger/al­berta Health Ser­vices

Pa­tient Bar­bara Mun­roe of Cal­gary, mid­dle, with Al­berta Health Ser­vices ex­er­cise spe­cial­ist Tanya Wil­liamson, right, and AHS re­search sci­en­tist Chris­tine Frieden­re­ich, left.

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