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World Health Matters: Exercise helps women tolerate chemotherapy

Written by | 19 Oct 2015 | All Medical News

by Gary Finnegan: Netherlands: Women with breast cancer who follow a physical exercise programme during their chemotherapy treatment experience fewer side effects, according a study by the Netherlands Cancer Institute (NKI).

Chemotherapy can take a toll on patients, causing fatigue, nausea and pain. Because of the side effects, not all patients are able to complete their chemotherapy as originally planned, but require a dose adjustment.

Previous studies have suggested that physical exercise might help to reduce side effects. Dr Neil Aaronson of the NKI has been studying which kinds of physical exercise programmes are most effective and whether they can actually improve compliance with treatment.

His team looked at a group of 230 women with breast cancer who received adjuvant chemotherapy. They participants were dived into three groups. The first followed a moderately intensive aerobic and strength exercise programme supervised by a physiotherapist; the second were assigned to a low-intensity aerobic exercise programme that they could follow at home; and the third group did not follow any exercise programme.

The results of the study were clear, according to the findings published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Both groups of women who followed an exercise programme experienced less fatigue, loss of fitness, nausea and pain during their chemotherapy treatment.

This effect was most pronounced in the group of women who followed the supervised, moderately intensive programme. The women in this group were also the ones who endured their chemotherapy best; only twelve percent of them required a dose adjustment. In the control group, 34 percent of the women could not tolerate the chemotherapy and needed a dose adjustment.

“In the past, patients who received chemotherapy were advised to take it slow,” says Dr Aaronson. “But actually, it is better for these patients to be as active as possible. Our study shows that even low-intensity exercise has a positive effect on the side effects of the chemotherapy. That is good news for those who really don’t feel like going to the gym. Small amounts of exercise are already beneficial compared to being non-active.”

Aaronson stressed that no conclusions can be drawn yet as to the influence of exercise on the efficacy of the chemotherapy treatment. “Women who followed the moderately intensive, supervised exercise programme better tolerated the chemotherapy. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the outcome of their treatment will be more positive. More research is needed into the relationship between the exact chemotherapy dosage received and long-term survival and the chance of recurrence, before we can say anything about the positive effect of exercise on clinical outcomes.”


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