Cardiovascular fitness not affected by cancer treatment

May 28, 2009

Washington, DC - The cardiovascular fitness level of cancer survivors is not affected by many standard cancer therapies, say researchers from Georgetown University Medical Cancer. That is the finding of a new observational study to be presented today at the American College of Sports Medicine in Seattle.

"We know physical activity is a critical component of cancer survivorship, both during and after cancer treatment," says Jennifer LeMoine, PhD, a post-doctoral research fellow with training in exercise physiology at GUMC's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. "In order to prescribe an exercise program, it's critical that we understand our patient's fitness level and whether or not treatment has had an impact on their cardiovascular health."

For the study, the researchers conducted a chart review of 49 women who attended a physician-directed fitness clinic for cancer survivors, founded and run by Priscilla Furth, MD, the study's co-author. The data included demographics, physical activity levels and cancer treatment type, duration and time since their treatment. Fitness assessments were conducted using a three-minute step test during a clinic visit. The purpose of the study was to access the step test as a way of determining a patient's current cardiovascular fitness level.

LeMoine says, "Often, what people think they are physically capable of doing and what they can actually do are two very different things. Many have a better fitness level than they expect while some find they're not as fit as they thought. The step-test gives us a better idea of their exercise tolerance and cardiovascular-fitness."

All the patients in the study were women and were diverse by age and body mass index. Their cancer diagnoses and treatments varied. Overall, 33 percent of the survivors were sedentary and 67 percent reported being physically active. Thirty-five (71 percent) of the participants completed the step test. Test completion and heart rate recovery were not affected by treatment, BMI, or age.

"What's really exciting to us was that we found that cardiovascular fitness was not affected by the expected culprits -- cancer treatment, type, duration or time since treatment," LeMoine explains. "That isn't to say there aren't side-effects of some treatments that may hinder physical activity, but when it comes to actual cardiovascular fitness as measured in our clinic, many of the standard treatments didn't have a role."

"We've modified an in-clinic cardiovascular assessment tool , the three-minute step test, with the goal of finding a test that can easily and quickly be performed in a physician's office," explains Priscilla A. Furth, MD, a professor of oncology and medicine at Lombardi. "Having this kind of evaluation tool is critical for physicians, like me, who are interested in prescribing physical activity for this population."
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LeMoine and Furth report no related financial interests. There was no external funding for this research.

About Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center

The Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of Georgetown University Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital, seeks to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer through innovative basic and clinical research, patient care, community education and outreach, and the training of cancer specialists of the future. Lombardi is one of only 41 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, as designated by the National Cancer Institute, and the only one in the Washington, DC, area. For more information, go to http://lombardi.georgetown.edu.

About Georgetown University Medical Center

Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through Georgetown's affiliation with MedStar Health). GUMC's mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, both nationally ranked, the world-renowned Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), home to 60 percent of the university's sponsored research funding.

Georgetown University Medical Center

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