Exercise Might Guard Against Heart Damage of Chemo

Chemotherapy can be hard on the heart, but an individualized exercise program may mitigate some of that damage, new research suggests.

Heart problems are a common side effect in patients with cancer because cancer treatments can impair heart function and structure or accelerate development of heart disease, especially when patients have risk factors such as high blood pressure, according to the authors.

They also noted that heart disease and cancer often share the same risk factors, and that cancer patients are often advised to have a healthy diet, quit smoking, control their weight, and exercise.

The review paper, published online Oct. 6 in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, emphasizes the importance of each patient having an individual exercise plan that takes into account personal history, cancer treatment, response to exercise and personal preferences.

The researchers advised that exercise should start as soon as possible after cancer diagnosis, even before starting treatment such as chemotherapy.

“Cancer patients are often less active than adults without cancer,” said study author Dr. Flavio D’Ascenzi, a cardiologist from the University of Siena in Italy. “However, exercise is essential for patients diagnosed with cancer who are under treatment, irrespective of the type of treatment.

“Endurance training is more effective for improving cardiovascular performance and reducing inflammation, but resistance training may be a better starting point for frail cancer patients,” he explained in a journal news release.

“Other types of exercise, such as inspiratory muscle training [breathing exercises], are safe and effective, particularly in those with thoracic cancer; therefore, the specific exercise should be chosen based on individual characteristics,” D’Ascenzi said.

A patient’s exercise regimen should be drafted by a multidisciplinary team, including oncologists, cardiologists, physical therapists, nurses, nutritionists and psychologists, the researchers advised.

“Physical activity before, during and after cancer treatment can counteract the negative effects of therapies on the cardiovascular system. In addition, it can relieve symptoms such as nausea and fatigue and help prevent unwanted changes in body weight,” D’Ascenzi concluded.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on cancer patients and exercise.