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  • Study: Early Supervised Exercise Reduces Fatigue, Improves Strength for Women After Breast Cancer Diagnosis

    A new study from the Netherlands is lending more support to the value of exercise during the early stages of adjuvant treatment for breast cancer. Researchers say that a combination of supervised strength and aerobic training not only reduces fatigue, but helps patients actually increase muscle fitness during the first 18 weeks of treatment.

    For the project, 204 breast cancer patients were divided into 2 groups of 102—one receiving usual care and the other participating in physical therapist-supervised resistance and aerobic exercise as soon as possible after diagnosis. By design, all participants received chemotherapy at some point between baseline and by an 18-week assessment.

    The exercise program was conducted at the patient's treating hospital, and consisted of 2 aerobic and 2 resistance exercise sessions per week, with each type of session lasting 25 minutes. Muscle training was targeted at all major muscle groups and designed to reach 1 set of 10 repetitions at 75% of 1-repetition maximum by the end of the 18-week period. Results were published in a recent issue of BMC Medicine (.pdf).

    Although the intervention and control groups both reported fatigue, at 18 weeks, the exercise group reported levels of fatigue 1.3 times lower than the control group, though no significant differences were noted at the 36-week assessment. Other measures related to quality of life showed no differences between groups, with the exception of the exercise group's perception of a positive "change in health" at 18 weeks.

    While researchers had anticipated that fatigue levels would drop for the exercise group, they were surprised to find that the exercise program not only offset the deconditioning effect of chemotherapy and other adjuvant treatments, but actually increased muscle strength. Authors write that most of the noted strength improvements at the 18-week point occurred at the submaximal level, an important improvement "since most daily activities are performed at the submaximal level."

    Researchers believe that engaging in exercise early in the breast cancer treatment process helps to change physical and emotional dynamics at a critical time, both by breaking the "vicious cycle" of "a self-perpetuating detraining state" that induces fatigue, and by increasing feelings of "general self-efficacy and mastery" among patients in treatment.

    The findings echo APTA's understanding of the important role that activity should play in the lives of cancer survivors. The association offers continuing education on physical therapy for cancer survivors, and visitors to APTA's website can view a video on collaborative care and breast cancer rehabilitation. Additionally, the role of the physical therapist in cancer survivorship was the focus of an article in the July 2013 edition of PT in Motion magazine.

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.


    • Hi Apta, I'm so glad you've posted this article. I find it very helpful for women who was in need to improve their strength after breast cancer diagnosis. Thank you for posting!

      Posted by Ricel on 2/4/2016 5:15 PM

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