Supervised exercise may help relieve treatment-related pain for breast cancer patients, a new study finds.
The study focused on hormonal therapies called aromatase inhibitors, which certain post-menopausal breast cancer patients take for up to five years after surgery. Aromatase inhibitors, or AIs, can reduce the risk of relapse by up to half, said co-author Jennifer Ligibel of Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Many women who take AIs experience joint pain or stiffness. In fact, joint pain is the leading reason that women stop taking the drugs early, Ligibel said. AIs also can cause other disruptive side effects, including hot flashes and brittle bones. As a result, up to half of women stop taking AIs or other hormonal therapies earlier than prescribed – a choice that can reduce their odds of survival.
A new study presented today at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium looked at whether exercise could help relieve joint pain. Researchers randomly assigned half of participants to a supervised exercise program, involving 2.5 hours of aerobic exercises such as walking, as well as two strength-training sessions overseen by a coach with experience working with breast cancer survivors.
After a year, women assigned to the exercise program had pain scores that were 20 percent lower than at the start of the study. Pain scores for women in the control group, who followed their normal routines, fell 3 percent in the same time, according to the study, led by Melinda Irwin, who leads the Yale HOPE (Hormone and Physical Exercise) study.
Women who exercised more had better results.
Those who attended at least 80 percent of exercise sessions reported a 25 percent drop in their worst pain scores. Those who attended fewer than 80 percent of scheduled sessions had a 14 percent drop, according to the study of 121 postmenopausal women.
Women who improved on measures of heart and lung fitness by at least 5 percent also did better, with a 29 percent reduction in their worst pain scores. Women with a smaller increase in fitness saw only a 7 percent decrease in their worst pain scores, according to the study,
“No matter how you looked at joint pain, it got better with exercise,” Ligibel said.
The study is one of the first to find a way to reduce joint pain in these women, Ligibel said.
Other studies have shown that exercise can help breast cancer survivors. It can prevent weight gain, which may reduce the risk of a relapse. Cardiovascular fitness is important for breast cancer survivors, who can suffer heart damage from certain chemotherapy drugs.
Read more: USA Today