Exercise may extend lifespan after breast cancer treatment

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A new study explains how aerobic and resistance exercise can increase life expectancy for individuals who have successfully completed breast cancer treatment.

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Regular exercise may increase the life expectancy of cancer survivors, research shows.

According to National Cancer Institute estimates, there were about 252.710 new diagnoses of breast cancer in the United States in 2017. Life expectancy after treatment for this type cancer is quite good, with a 5-year survival rate of 89.7 percent.

However, cancer treatment is often associated with the onset of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of related conditions, including: heart disease, hypertension, obesity, high blood sugar, and insulin resistance. Metabolic syndrome has also been linked to a poorer survival rate in breast cancer survivors.

That’s why researchers at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA, have been looking at how to extend life expectancy after treatment through regular exercise, which can help address or prevent the onset of metabolic syndrome.

“A lot of people don’t know that the leading cause of death for breast cancer survivors is heart disease, not cancer,” says lead author Christina Dieli-Conwright, explaining why regular exercise could help increase life expectancy.

The study findings were published yesterday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

β€œIn breast cancer patients, the metabolic syndrome is exacerbated by obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and receiving chemotherapy”, explains Dieli-Conwright.

In their paper, the authors also note that individuals with metabolic syndrome have a 17 percent higher chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. They may also be more likely to have cancer return after treatment and may have a shorter life expectancy.

Taking these considerations into account, the research team hypothesized that following a regular exercise regimen could improve long-term survival by addressing weight gain and its associated conditions.

Dieli-Conwright and team conducted a randomized study involving 100 individuals who had successfully undergone treatment for breast cancer less than 6 months before the study was due to begin.

At the start of the study, about 46 percent of the participants were considered obese, while about 77 percent were diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.

The intervention consisted of three weekly one-to-one training sessions over a 4-month period, including weight lifting exercises and a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise.

After the 4-month exercise program, the participants who took part in this routine experienced significantly improved health; only 15 percent of them were found to have metabolic syndrome, compared with 80 percent of study participants in the control group.

The researchers also noted that the women who participated in the fitness program gained muscle mass and lost excess fat, and that regular exercise reduced the participants’ risk of developing heart disease.

In addition, participants in the fitness program also saw a 10 percent decrease in blood pressure and a 50 percent increase in high density lipoprotein (HDL), or the so-called β€œgood” cholesterol”, which absorbs other types of cholesterol and returns them to the liver to be eliminated from the system.

Dieli-Conwright points out that obesity can cause inflammation, which in turn could facilitate tumor cancer growth and recurrence after treatment.

A study Dieli-Conwright conducted last year, looking at blood samples and fat biopsies from 20 obese cancer survivors, showed that individuals who exercise regularly see less inflammation in blood cells, and they also have a better overall inflammatory response.

The researcher emphasizes the importance of exercise for maintaining good health and adds that she and her team are committed to conducting further research into the therapeutic potential of such routines.

β€œExercise is a form of medicine. Both studies support that idea, and we will continue to conduct studies to complement traditional cancer therapies.”

Christina Dieli Conwright

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