Physical Fitness Improves Chemotherapy for Patients with Breast Cancer

It’s no secret that physical fitness can, in many cases, improve our overall health and wellness. But could being physically fit also improve healthcare and treatment response? According to Medical XPress, the answer seems to be yes – at least for patients with breast cancer. A recent study performed by researchers at the University of Alberta shared that being more physically fit helped patients complete more rounds of chemotherapy. This is one of the first studies which shows how variabilities in physical fitness influence the ways in which patients receive, or move through, treatment. Interested in learning more? Take a look at the study results published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment

Breast Cancer

As the name suggests, breast cancer forms in breast cells. Although breast cancer can affect both males and females, it is the second most common cancer in females. As a whole, the cause of breast cancer is unknown. However, in around 10% of cases, BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations are the cause. Additional risk factors include older age, obesity, a family history or personal history of breast cancer, early menstruation or late menopause, never being pregnant, and alcohol use. Symptoms associated with breast cancer include:

  • Inverted nipples
  • Abnormal nipple discharge
  • A lump in the breast tissue
  • Changes in breast size, shape, or appearance
  • Skin redness, dimpling, pitting, peeling, scaling, or flaking

Physical Fitness

According to Human Kinetics, physical fitness can be defined as: 

The ability of your body systems to work together efficiently to allow you to be healthy and perform activities of daily living. Being efficient means doing daily activities with the least effort possible.

Within this study, researchers sought to understand the influence of physical fitness on chemotherapy completion. After all, receiving around 85% of chemotherapy treatments is necessary to effectively fight cancer. However, treatment can leave patients fatigued or feeling weak. So how does initial physical fitness prior to treatment impact how much chemotherapy patients can take? In particular, researchers focused on:

  • Aerobic fitness
  • Muscle strength

This differs from prior studies, which focused more on body composition. Within this study, findings included:

  • Patients with breast cancer who are in the top 20% in regards to aerobic fitness were significantly more likely to complete chemotherapy treatment, with an estimated 89% completion rate. 
  • Similarly, those in the top 20% for chest muscle strength completed treatment around 82% of the time, compared to 71% of those in the lower strength group.
  • Therefore, researchers determined that physical fitness, particularly in these two areas, can improve patient outcomes and, in some cases, even lower the chance that the cancer will recur. 
  • Ultimately, understanding a patient’s physical fitness level can assist physicians with providing better, more effective treatment and treatment plans.
Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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