Moving Beyond Breast Cancer

Breast cancer survivors often do not meet physical activity recommendations

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Being physically active is one of the best things breast cancer survivors can do for themselves. Are they moving? Recent research tracked the physical activity patterns of breast cancer survivors.

Fewer than 8 percent of breast cancer survivors in the study moved enough at 24 months, five years and 10 years following their diagnosis.

Moving enough was defined as 2.5 hours a week of moderate exercise (casual walking) and more than 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (jogging/running) a week.

The reasons for this lack of physical activity among these survivors remain unclear.

"Try to move every day."

The study, led by Caitlin Mason, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, followed 631 women between the ages of 18 and 64 diagnosed with breast cancer (stage 0-IIIA).

The women were surveyed about their exercise habits before diagnosis and then two, five and 10 years after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

The researchers considered 16 different forms of activity: fast walking, jogging, running, hiking, aerobics, bicycling, swimming, tennis, golf, skiing, Nordic track, fast dancing, bowling, rowing, horseback riding and light calisthenics.

These are aerobic activities and the ideal time spent on these is 75 minutes or more per week.

Here’s what the researchers learned:

  • 34 percent of women met physical activity guidelines before their breast cancer diagnosis.
  • Two years after diagnosis, this percentage did not change.
  • Women who met the guidelines before diagnosis were most likely to meet them at the five-year point.
  • Physical activity improved at five years, with 39.5 percent of women meeting the recommendations.
  • At 10 years, the number plummeted, with only 21.4 percent of women moving regularly.
  • 8 percent of breast cancer survivors met the recommendations at every point.
  • A large portion of the women reported engaging in little or no activity during the follow-up period – 42 percent at two years; 40.7 percent at five years; and 59.1 percent at 10 years.

Christopher O. Ruud, MD, breast cancer specialist at Austin Cancer Centers, told dailyRx News, “An important study, this is an area that survivors can control, perhaps more readily than diet. The side effects of exercise are better general health.”

"Our inability to identify many significant predictors of long-term physical activity participation suggests that the factors influencing physical activity behaviors in breast cancer survivors are complex and may differ from those in the general population," the authors wrote.

"Additional consideration of psychosocial factors and issues related to pain management, fatigue, and specific treatment effects may help to better understand the unique issues faced by cancer survivors and their impact on physical activity participation."

All of the women were enrolled in the HEAL (Health, Eating, Activity and Lifestyle) Study, which is focused on finding ways to improve breast cancer survival. 

This study was published in a recent issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

The research was supported by the National Cancer Institute. No authors disclosed any conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 9, 2013
Last Updated:
October 1, 2013