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Regular exercise can increase life expectancy of breast cancer survivors

Aerobic and resistance training lowers their heightened risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes and possibly risk of recurrence

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Regular exercise could add to the life expectancy of breast cancer survivors because it lowers their heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and possibly breast cancer recurrence, a study* published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology has found.

Breast cancer has a relatively high survival rate, with nine out of 10 people who have breast cancer still alive five years after they were diagnosed. However, women tend to gain weight during breast cancer treatment, raising their risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Lead author of the study Christina Dieli-Conwright said: "Many people don't know the number one cause of death for breast cancer survivors is heart disease, not cancer."

She added: "In breast cancer patients, metabolic syndrome is exacerbated by obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and receipt of chemotherapy."

The randomised trial included 100 breast cancer survivors who received cancer treatment less than six months prior to enrolling in the study. The experimental group received three one-on-one exercise sessions per week over four months. The programme included resistance training with weights and at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise.

When the study started, about 46% of the participants were obese, and 77% had metabolic syndrome. Women with metabolic syndrome are 17% more likely to get breast cancer, three times more likely to experience breast cancer recurrence and two times more likely to die from breast cancer.

After the intervention, 15% of those in the exercise group had metabolic syndrome compared to 80% in the control group. The women who exercised lost fat and gained muscle. They also reduced their risk of heart disease. Their blood pressure decreased by 10% and their good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein or HDL) increased by 50%.

*Dieli-Conwright C, et al. Effects of Aerobic and Resistance Exercise on Metabolic. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2018: doi/full/10.1200/JCO.2017.75.7526

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