Exercise May Beat Breast
Cancer in the Long Run
A daily walk around the block, a few
laps in the pool, a vigorous game of soccer: studies suggest exercise
is extending the lives of women who've survived breast cancer,
even as it lifts their spirits.
"Exercise empowers these women
with a tool that's there at their disposal," said Dr. Cheryl
Perkins, senior clinical advisor at the Susan B. Komen Breast
Cancer Foundation, one of the nation's largest organizations dedicated
to fighting the disease.
A groundbreaking study involving
more than 2,100 women, released earlier this year, found that
even moderate amounts of regular exercise -- like a half-hour
walk every day -- could reduce a woman's risk for breast cancer
recurrence by one-quarter to one-half.
"The benefit correlated with
the amount of exercise. So, the more exercise, the better survival,"
The reasons behind physical activity's
positive effects on breast health remain unclear.
"One of the biological theories
as to why exercise might be a good tool for reducing risk or in
prevention is that it might reduce obesity, and obesity is known
to increase circulating estrogen," Perkins said. High levels
of circulating estrogen are thought to greatly increase a woman's
risk for breast cancer and breast cancer recurrence.
But there could be other factors
involved, since "we know that physical activity acts directly
and indirectly" in reducing disease, said Debbie Saslow,
director of breast and gynecologic cancer at the American Cancer
Society. She pointed out that exercise has also been shown to
lower risks for other cancers, including malignancies of the colon,
endometrium, kidney and esophagus.
Women who are currently undergoing
some form of chemotherapy should consult with their doctor before
engaging in vigorous exercise regimens. "Some chemotherapy
medications affect cardiac function," Perkins said. "And
some affect bone density -- especially in older women, you might
have bone density problems already."
There might also be some limits
placed on excessive or strenuous arm movement among patients experiencing
a treatment-related swelling of the underarm lymph nodes, a condition
called lymphedema. "Because of the risk of lymphedema, we
don't recommend that patients engage in really heavy weightlifting,
for example," Saslow said.
Still, for most breast cancer survivors
past the active-treatment stage of their care, "there's no
limit as far as the capacity to do vigorous exercise," she
Of course, exercise can be a tonic
for the mind as well as the body.
"It simply increases your
sense of wellness," Perkins explained. "It helps increase
your stamina in the long run. It's good on a lot of levels."
Perkins should know, since she's
a long-term breast cancer survivor herself. She credits regular
exercise with helping her stay fit in her fight against the disease.
"I've always been physically
active, and get out every day. I have two wirehaired fox terriers
and they move a lot. That's a reason, even when I don't
want to, to get moving," she said. "And it makes you
It's fitting, then, that the Komen
Foundation sponsors the annual "Race for the Cure" in
cities across America, enlisting the hearts, minds and feet of
breast cancer survivors and those who love them, in an effort
to raise money for research.
"That's the visual symbol
of all this," Perkins said.
"There's a lot we don't know
about breast cancer -- what causes it, what increases your risk
and what doesn't," she said. "But exercise is something
a woman can do, and evidence is mounting that it's something that
decreases risk and may make a real difference in survival."
information on Breast Cancer
Reference Source 101
September 15, 2004