Weights and cardio exercise best for breast cancer survivors

Exercise beneficial for breast cancer survivors, study finds.

New research published in the journal Obesity suggests that a combination of resistance and aerobic exercise is extremely beneficial for survivors of breast cancer in managing the side effects of post-treatment hormones, as well as improving body composition and health outcomes overall.

Post-menopausal breast cancer survivors take Aromatase Inhibitors (AIs), hormone therapy drugs that stop the production of estrogen and reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. However, these drugs can have serious side effects such as bone loss and severe joint pain (arthralgia), leading many survivors to give up on hormone therapy prematurely.

“When women quit taking AIs, they increase the chances of their breast cancer reoccurring,” says Gwendolyn Thomas, assistant professor exercise science at Syracuse University and co-author of the study. “If breast cancer survivors are obese or overweight, they are likely to experience arthralgia. Interventions that address obesity in women taking AIs can help them continue this necessary treatment.”

The study involved taking breast cancer survivors taking AIs and having them complete two weight training sessions and two and half hours of moderate aerobic activity every week for a year. After a year, the researchers measured the participants’ body fat percentage, BMI, bone density and lean body mass (muscle). What the researchers found was that, as one would expect, that the participants had a drop in body fat percentage and BMI, along with increased muscle gain.

Because the AI side effects can make breast cancer survivors at risk for frailty fractures and osteoporosis, the study argues exercise should be a prescribed treatment option for breast cancer survivors, concluding that “exercise interventions may help to mitigate the negative side effects of AIs and improve health outcomes in breast cancer survivors”.

Thomas, G. et al. (2016.) The effect of exercise on body composition and bone mineral density in breast cancer survivors taking aromatase inhibitors. Obesity. First published: 27 December 2016. DOI: 10.1002/oby.21729

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