Many women (and even some Health Professionals) believe that bone lost from breast cancer treatment cannot be recovered. However, a recent study should (hopefully) change that belief.
The study found that women who participated in an exercise program one year after their radiation treatment demonstrated considerably better bone health than women who did not.
Benefits of Exercise for Cancer Treatment
Exercise is prescribed during cancer treatment because it has been shown to be effective in reducing nausea, fatigue, pain, anxiety, as well as depression. (1)
For the past decade, the exercise prescription for cancer survivors has been aerobic and strength training. Research has demonstrated the following benefits accrue from an exercise program:
- The aerobic training reduces fatigue, improves quality of life and increases aerobic capacity.
- Strength training has a positive affect on fatigue and quality of life but has the added benefit of improving strength. (2,3)
- Exercise has also been linked to increased survivorship. For certain cancers, such as breast and colorectal, exercise was shown to improve survival rates by as much as 60%! (2)
Affect of Exercise on Bone Health of Women with Breast Cancer
Recently, a number of researchers hypothesized that an exercise program for individuals recovering from breast cancer treatment could reduce risk factors for fracture and obesity-related diseases. Until now, few studies actually looked at the benefit of exercise specifically related to bone loss from the treatment of cancer.
A new study, recently released ahead of print, shows that there are benefits to moderate-intensity resistance and impact (jump) exercises on preventing bone loss usually associated with cancer treatment. (4)
The study involved the following:
- Postmenopausal women who were at least one-year post radiation and/or chemotherapy.
- The women in the study were 50 years of age or older and free of medication for bone loss.
- The women had never been on a resistance or impact-training program prior to the study.
- Participants took part in a progressive resistance and impact training three times per week for one year.
Not only did the women involved in the study have an increase in lean body mass but their DXA scores and biomarkers of bone turnover showed significant improvement compared to the group who participated in a stretching program (the control group).
Exercise for Secondary Prevention of Breast Cancer
The evidence that exercise is beneficial for breast cancer prevention is continuing to build. Another study (5) published this month in Cancer Prevention Research on exercise for secondary prevention of breast cancer concludes:
Burgeoning observational evidence indicates that prescribing aerobic exercise of 3 hours or more per week could have meaningful mortality and morbidity benefits for breast cancer survivors.
The author of the study goes on to emphasize the important role of a trained Health Professional:
Adherence to this exercise prescription, however, will require an infrastructure to guide survivors and to address the common clinical treatment sequelae that might interfere with survivors’ ability to regularly perform this level of activity.
In other words, look for trained Health Professionals able to prescribe and manage an exercise program. Working with a qualified and trained Health Professional improves your chance of adhering to your exercise program and succeeding.
I encourage Health Professionals to acquire exercise prescription skills that clients value and need through study and practical application.
This study demonstrates that women who have completed their breast cancer treatment and are free of medication can improve bone health with an exercise program. However, the exercise program must include resistance and impact training.
If you have had breast cancer, have completed your treatment and are free of medication, you should start an osteoporosis exercise program that includes the key elements of bone building and fracture risk reduction.
If you are a Health Professional you should look to include a well designed, effective and safe osteoporosis exercise program for your clients. If you have not had specific training in exercise and the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, you should consider the online MelioGuide Building Better Bones course.
Health Professionals: Building Better Bones Online Course
Learn the Prevention, Treatment and Management of Osteoporosis.
Women and Men: Exercise for Better Bones Program
Osteoporosis exercise program that strengthens bone, reduces fracture risk, improves balance and builds confidence.
- Visovsky, C., Exercise and Cancer Recovery, Online J Issues Nurs. 2005;10(2)
- Newton RU, Galvao DA Exercise in Prevention and Management of Cancer. Curr Treat Options Oncol. 2008 Aug 13
- Rajarajeswaran, P and Vishnupriya, R Exercise in Cancer Indian J med Paediatr Oncol. 2009 30(2): 61-70
- Winters-Stone, KM et al. Strength training stops bone loss and builds muscle in postmenopausal breast cancer survivors: a randomized, controlled trial. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2011 Mar 19. [Epub ahead of print]
- Schmiz, KH. Exercise for Secondary Prevention of Breast Cancer: Moving from Evidence to Changing Clinical Practice. Cancer Prevention Research (Phila). 2011 Apr: 4(4): 476-80.