Nav: Home

Researcher examines effect of exercise on breast cancer survivors

January 18, 2017

A researcher at Syracuse University has simple advice for breast cancer survivors struggling with the side effects of Aromatase Inhibitors (AIs): exercise.

Gwendolyn Thomas, assistant professor of exercise science, is the co-author of a groundbreaking article in the Obesity Journal (The Obesity Society, 2017) about the effects of exercise and physical activity on postmenopausal breast cancer survivors taking AIs--hormone-therapy drugs that stop the production of estrogen. She contends that a combination of resistance and aerobic exercise helps mitigate the side effects of AIs and improves health outcomes in breast cancer survivors, particularly their body composition.

While AIs significantly reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence, they often lead to bone loss or severe joint pain, known as arthralgia. Hence, many survivors--nearly 40 percent of them, according to one study--stop taking AIs long before their customary five-year treatment period expires.

"When women quit taking AIs, they increase the chances of their breast cancer reoccurring," says Thomas, who joined the SOE faculty in August. "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."

Funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, Thomas' study was conducted at Yale, where she previously was an associate research scientist and worked alongside Melinda Irwin, a renowned professor of epidemiology and the project's principal investigator.

Irwin and researchers from Yale, Columbia, Penn State and the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute in Boston led the project, which was the first to examine the effects of aerobic and resistance exercise on postmenopausal breast cancer survivors taking AIs. Participants did two sessions of weight training and 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking or jogging, every week for a year. The researchers then monitored the participants' body composition, including their body mass index, percent body fat, lean body mass and bone mineral density.

"We noticed a drop in percent body fat and body mass index, as well as a significant increase in their lean body mass," says Thomas, who earned a Ph.D. in kinesiology from the University of Connecticut. "These changes have clinical benefits, but also suggest that exercise should be prescribed in conjunction with AIs, as part of a regular treatment regimen."

It is well documented that breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis among American women. Moreover, approximately 65 percent of breast cancer survivors are overweight or obese.

Because most breast cancers are hormone receptor-positive (i.e., they use estrogen or progesterone to grow and spread), survivors often rely on hormone therapy, such as AIs, to keep the disease from returning.

AI treatment, however, can be a double-edged sword because of the aforementioned effects that are not connected to age-related decline.

"These changes put women at risk for frailty fractures and osteoporosis, not to mention further risk for comorbid chronic disease and cancer reoccurrence," Thomas continues.

Most of the participants, she notes, were predominantly white and highly educated. Prior to the study, most of them exercised no more than 55 minutes a week.

"There are so many barriers to exercise in everyday life," she explains. "We can tell our patients they need to exercise, but helping them meet their goals is something at which we [as exercise scientists] need to do a better job."

Helping breast cancer survivors meet their physical activity goals is what Thomas is working on next. She currently is recruiting participants for a related project, supported by a fellowship from the Patterson Foundation. Her goal? To develop a fitness app for breast cancer survivors.

"I'm really excited about this project because it will enable graduates and undergraduates to engage in patient-oriented intervention research," Thomas says. "By using a mobile platform for health promotion and behavior change, we can make exercise more accessible to breast cancer survivors, especially those who take inhibitors and struggle with obesity or being overweight."
-end-


Syracuse University

Related Breast Cancer Articles:

Partial breast irradiation effective treatment option for low-risk breast cancer
Partial breast irradiation produces similar long-term survival rates and risk for recurrence compared with whole breast irradiation for many women with low-risk, early stage breast cancer, according to new clinical data from a national clinical trial involving researchers from The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - Arthur G.
Breast screening linked to 60 per cent lower risk of breast cancer death in first 10 years
Women who take part in breast screening have a significantly greater benefit from treatments than those who are not screened, according to a study of more than 50,000 women.
More clues revealed in link between normal breast changes and invasive breast cancer
A research team, led by investigators from Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, details how a natural and dramatic process -- changes in mammary glands to accommodate breastfeeding -- uses a molecular process believed to contribute to survival of pre-malignant breast cells.
Breast tissue tumor suppressor PTEN: A potential Achilles heel for breast cancer cells
A highly collaborative team of researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina and Ohio State University report in Nature Communications that they have identified a novel pathway for connective tissue PTEN in breast cancer cell response to radiotherapy.
Computers equal radiologists in assessing breast density and associated breast cancer risk
Automated breast-density evaluation was just as accurate in predicting women's risk of breast cancer, found and not found by mammography, as subjective evaluation done by radiologists, in a study led by researchers at UC San Francisco and Mayo Clinic.
Blood test can effectively rule out breast cancer, regardless of breast density
A new study published in PLOS ONE demonstrates that Videssa® Breast, a multi-protein biomarker blood test for breast cancer, is unaffected by breast density and can reliably rule out breast cancer in women with both dense and non-dense breast tissue.
Study shows influence of surgeons on likelihood of removal of healthy breast after breast cancer dia
Attending surgeons can have a strong influence on whether a patient undergoes contralateral prophylactic mastectomy after a diagnosis of breast cancer, according to a study published by JAMA Surgery.
Young breast cancer patients undergoing breast conserving surgery see improved prognosis
A new analysis indicates that breast cancer prognoses have improved over time in young women treated with breast conserving surgery.
Does MRI plus mammography improve detection of new breast cancer after breast conservation therapy?
A new article published by JAMA Oncology compares outcomes for combined mammography and MRI or ultrasonography screenings for new breast cancers in women who have previously undergone breast conservation surgery and radiotherapy for breast cancer initially diagnosed at 50 or younger.
Blood test offers improved breast cancer detection tool to reduce use of breast biopsy
A Clinical Breast Cancer study demonstrates Videssa Breast can inform better next steps after abnormal mammogram results and potentially reduce biopsies up to 67 percent.
More Breast Cancer News and Breast Cancer Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.