Exercise Brings Better Quality of Life to Women With Advanced Breast Cancer

Exercise can boost the quality of life of women who are battling advanced breast cancer, a new study has found.

Women who took part in a nine-month structured exercise program reported less fatigue and a better overall quality of life, according to results presented Thursday at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

“Optimizing quality of life is, of course, important for everybody, but especially for patients living with metastatic disease who undergo continuous treatment,” said researcher Anne May, a professor at the Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care at the University Medical Center, Utrecht, in the Netherlands.

“By improving quality of life through enhanced symptom management, we can help patients better enjoy their personal, social, and, if applicable, working life,” May added in a meeting news release.

Previous studies have found that exercise can help people with less advanced cancers, but whether those benefits also apply to patients whose cancers have spread has not been rigorously tested, May noted.

For the study, May and her colleagues enrolled 357 people with advanced breast cancer, in a collaboration between institutions in Germany, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Australia.

All participants received a physical activity tracker and generic exercise advice.

But 178 patients were also randomly selected to receive more help – twice-weekly supervised exercise sessions for nine months that involved balance, resistance and aerobic activities.

Patients assigned to the exercise group wound up with average quality-of-life scores higher than those who didn’t get the specialized attention, results showed.

These included an increase in social functioning and decreases in pain, shortness of breath and fatigue.

Patients who engaged in regular physical exercise also did better on a “steep ramp test” performed on an exercise bike.

Based on these findings, May suggests that health professionals routinely recommend supervised exercise to patients with advanced breast cancer, and that insurance companies cover the cost of exercise programs.

Longer programs are more likely to help patients get into the groove, and provide more benefit since their treatment regimens tend to be longer, researchers added.

“We think a nine-month program helps patients incorporate exercise into their routine,” May said. “Many patients continued exercising beyond nine months; exercising became part of their daily lives and cancer treatment regimens.”

Findings presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The National Cancer Institute has more about physical activity and cancer.

SOURCE: American Association for Cancer Research, news release, Dec. 7, 2023