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