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Everyone Needs Exercise, Especially Breast Cancer Survivors

Everyone Needs Exercise, Especially Breast Cancer Survivors

Over the past few years, we’ve seen numerous studies that have shown the important role exercise can play in improving quality of life after a cancer diagnosis.

And we’ve known since 2005, that exercise might reduce the risk of a breast cancer recurrence— a finding that has been affirmed in more recent studies. (Studies have also shown that exercise and weight loss are key to breast cancer risk reduction.)

But many breast cancer patients are reluctant to exercise, due to fears that it might sap their energy or increase their risk of developing, or worsen symptoms of, lymphedema. And as a recent study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found, oncologists aren’t always taking the steps necessary to dispel these fears. Not only is it uncommon for oncologists to talk to their patients about exercise, but when they do, they don’t always take the time to give their patients specific suggestions about the type of exercise that might be best for them.

Studies have shown that women who exercised before their breast cancer diagnosis are more likely to exercise during and after treatment. But it’s important for women who have never exercised or who weren’t exercising to know that there are many reasons to start exercising after a cancer diagnosis.

If your doctors haven’t asked you about your exercise routine, you should certainly raise the topic. It’s also important to ask specific questions. Not everyone thinks of “exercise” in the same way.  Your local cancer center may offer special programs, or be able to refer you to someone who does. In addition, there are now YMCAs at 24 cities nationwide that offer Livestrong at the YMCA programs for adult cancer survivors taught by instructors trained in the elements of cancer, post rehab exercise, nutrition, and supportive cancer care. (Many of these classes are free.) You can learn more about these programs here.

Researchers are also conducting clinical trials that are investigating which types of exercise programs are best for breast cancer survivors. You can learn more about and how to enroll in these studies here.

The Love/Avon Army of Women is currently helping researchers find breast cancer survivors who are interested in these two exercise studies:

The BEAT Cancer Program Study

Open to breast cancer survivors who live near the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in Urbana, IL OR Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield. You can learn more about this study here.

The Stepping STONE (Survivors Taking on Nutrition & Exercise) Study

Open to Black and African-American survivors living in the Washington D.C.–area. You can learn more about this study here.

As you can see, there are lots of opportunities to get moving!

Courtney said...

This is great! As a physical therapy student I completed a systematic literature review on the effects of an upper extremity exercise program for patients who are post breast cancer surgery (this was a few years ago). Long story short, the research and literature is scarce! This is an area that needs further studies as many specialists and doctors are not getting the info out to their patients! The physical and psychological benefits are immense! I hope you will continue to advocate for physical fitness in this population!!

Carol said...

I was so excited to read this!! I have always kept fit and exercised, but after going through breast cancer twice, I have picked it up ten fold. I work out hard 4 days a week, taking creative conditioning which is a cross fit workout (think 200 pushups, 100 burpees, run 3 miles, 35 lb kettlebells) …. after a one hour class of that I take muay thai boxing. I will be 59 in one month. I have gone thru lumpectomy, bilateral mastectomy, DIEP flap, latissmus dorsi flap, and all the inbetween surgeries of expander rejection, expanders again etc… total of 12 surgeries with all… I did not let any of this deter me from being the strongest I can be. This is my way of fighting cancers return. Exercise is my medicine. I am now finished w/my 5 year treatment of tamoxifen/aromasin…. Thanks Dr. Love for all you are doing in helping us to find the cure for this disease!!!!!

Cara said...

Thank you for highlighting the importance of exercise! As an exercise physiologist and breast cancer survivor I can’t stress the importance of moving enough! I have created a website dedicated to helping others stay physically active while preventing, treating and moving beyond cancer. Please come visit it and poke around at ! And as always, thank you Dr. Love for your incredible work - be well.

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