Breast cancer is the leading cause of death due to any type of cancer in women. It is estimated that one in eight women will suffer from breast cancer at some stage in their life.

Women who have breast cancer or have experienced breast cancer and have been treated for it continue to suffer from a varying number of side effects. These include weakness and fatigue leading to weight gain in spite of possible loss of appetite.

According to an article published in the journal ‘Cancer Research’, scientists from the Polytechnic University of Madrid, in collaboration with the General Hospital of the University Gregorio Marañón, have been involved in a study which has positively shown that a specific physical exercise programme designed and supervised by oncologists can improve the quality of life of patients with breast cancer and positively influence their future survival.

The quality of life is improved, on the one hand, due to a reduction in side effects from the treatments, and on the other, due to an increase in the patient’s physical activity, which in turn acts as prevention of heart disease and obesity, which are both contributing factors in a recurrence of breast cancer.

Despite the known benefits of exercise, around 70% of women who go through this disease reduce their levels of physical activity, and this has a negative impact on their health and quality of life. This inactivity contributes to a number of disorders associated with the side effects of the treatments that may influence survival.

To help improve the quality of life of patients with breast cancer, researchers have developed a specific group exercise programme to treat the side effects of the treatments of breast cancer.

The study compared two groups of women, one subject to the group exercise programme and the other maintaining its usual lifestyle. It involved a total of 94 women from the community of Madrid, making it one of the largest studies conducted in Europe in this area.

According to Soraya Casla, an author and member of the Spanish Research Group on Breast Cancer, “this type of research brings us much closer to changing the perspective of the treatments, making it more comprehensive and treating aspects of the patient’s health which will have a long-term impact.”

The long-term effects

The results showed that women who participated in the exercise programme improved their quality of life and also increased the amount of exercise they practised in their spare time.

Their cardiovascular capacity improved, translating to a greater life expectancy and a lower chance of developing cardiovascular diseases. A reduced incidence of chronic fatigue was also recorded.

close up of african woman in t-shirt with breast cancer awareness ribbon over white background

Chronic fatigue is one of the most common side effects in cancer patients, persisting even several years after finishing the treatment. These benefits were observed even six months after the treatment ended, which means that thanks to the exercise programme a change in lifestyle was generated in those who became more active in spite of the treatment and its usual side effect of chronic fatigue.

All these findings show that an exercise programme supervised by an oncologist can be a very beneficial intervention for patients with breast cancer as it may help them improve their quality of life and may also help them change their lifestyle by becoming more active, thereby preventing other disease determinants for the reappearance of a tumour and its survival.