Exercise During Breast, Colon Cancer Chemotherapy Demonstrates Long-Term Benefits


Patients who exercise during chemotherapy may have lower levels of fatigue years after cancer treatments.

Although cancer treatment regimens can leave patients feeling tired and rundown, new research suggests that they may benefit from engaging in physical activity.

Results from a clinical trial presented at the 2018 Cancer Survivorship Symposium showed that exercising during adjuvant chemotherapy could lead to increased engagement in physical activity in the future.

The authors found that patients with breast or colon cancer who participated in an 18-week exercise program during chemotherapy engaged in 142 more minutes of physical activity per week after 4 years than those who did not exercise, according to the study.

“It is well known that exercise during chemotherapy can lessen treatment-related side effects, such as fatigue, pain, and nausea,” said lead study author Anne M. May, PhD. “Our study is the first to show that people who are physically active during treatment maintain higher levels of physical activity in the long run, and this is really important for their health and well-being.”

The PACT study examined whether engaging in exercise during chemotherapy may be able to mitigate adverse events. After surgery for breast or colon cancer, patients were randomized to participate in an 18-week exercise program or to receive usual care during chemotherapy.

The exercise program included 60 minutes of moderate-to-high intensity aerobic and strength training twice per week supervised by a physical therapist. Patients were also instructed to participate in 30 minutes of home-based exercise 3 days per week.

The authors previously reported that the program reduced treatment-related fatigue in the short-term.

After 4 years, the authors surveyed 128 participants to quantify the potential long-term benefits of the intervention. Of these patients, 70 participated in the exercise program and 58 received standard care.

Patients in the exercise group reported participating in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity for an average of 90 minutes per day compared with an average of 70 minutes per day for the usual care group, according to the study.

“The exercise program was designed to keep patients physically active long-term, so we’re really pleased to see that even 4 years later people who received the intervention were still more active,” Dr May said.

The authors noted that the exercise program incorporated cognitive changes that aimed to increase confidence during physical activity and the physical therapist discussed the maintenance of the program after completion.

Additionally, patients in the exercise cohort had lower levels of fatigue compared with the usual care cohort after 4 years; however, the difference was not statistically significant, according to the study.

The authors said that further studies are needed to confirm that exercising would also be effective in reducing both short- and long-term adverse events among patients treated for other cancers and current studies suggest the intervention may be successful.

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