Quality of Life Improves with Exercise During Breast Cancer Treatment


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How important is exercise during breast cancer treatment? Image by arinas74

Could exercise improve quality of life for breast cancer survivors?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 200 thousand women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer in the year 2007 alone. There are many different risk factors that can increase a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer; two of these risk factors are being overweight and not getting enough physical activity. Little did we know – physical activity post-diagnosis may also be important for breast cancer patients.

Effects of Physical Activity on Breast Cancer Patients

In a new study, “Physical Activity Adds to the Effects of Stress Management Intervention on Fatigue Interference, Depression, and Functional Quality of Life During Treatment for Breast Cancer” researchers examine the correlation between exercise and quality of life in breast cancer patients. In the study, 240 women who were recently diagnosed with non-metastatic breast cancer, and who were four to ten weeks post surgery, were randomly assigned to two groups. The first group of women attended a ten week Cognitive Behavioral Stress Management (CBSM) intervention. The second group (the control group) attended a one day psychoeducation intervention. In both groups, researchers monitored the women’s physical activity (PA).

Interview With Lead Author Jamie Stagl, M.S.

Decoded Science had the opportunity to interview lead author, Jamie Stagl, M.S. a doctoral student in Clinical Health Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at University of Miami to ask about the differences among the two groups:

“The CBSM group was a 10-week group-based intervention developed by Michael Antoni, PhD at the University of Miami, and is tailored specifically to meet the needs of women with breast cancer.  Each week includes a relaxation training component, ranging from Progressive Muscle Relaxation to visualization and deep breathing. The relaxation training was followed by the cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) topics, including thought restructuring, anger management, active coping strategies, enhancing social support, and assertiveness training. Women were able to practice both the relaxation and CBT in session, and then practice at home as well. Given the weekly sessions, women were able to explore and problem-solve any barriers they had to practicing the relaxation.  

The one-day self-help psychoeducational seminar was largely an informational and education session. Women in this group received what would be considered “usual care”. This included information about breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, side effects, nutrition, etc. While women were able to take this information home with them and use it at will, there was no interactive component, and also lacked the opportunity to answer questions or review the material. As you can see, the CBSM was a therapeutic intervention, while the control group was strictly informational. Of note, the CBSM group also received all handouts and information that was given to the control group.”

The study found that women who exercised both before and during treatment had better mental health outcomes, and less side effects such as fatigue and depression, and experienced an overall better quality of life. Stagl further explains to Decoded Science an interesting aspect of these findings:

“The interesting finding is that the construct of Fatigue-Related Daily Interference (FRDI) was lessened with CBSM and PA participation. Fatigue Interference is an indicator of how the perceived fatigue is interfering with a woman’s ability to perform her daily activities that may bring meaning to her life. If fatigue is greatly interfering with the day-to-day, it is likely to have a large impact on mood. In fact, research shows that fatigue interference is highly correlated with depression and anxiety.

On the other hand, women who are more physically active may have greater self-efficacy, or confidence in their ability to be active. This, in turn, allows them to participate in other activities that make life meaningful, thereby increasing quality of life and mood.  Our findings were in line with this, showing that women who were physically active had reduced fatigue interference, less depression, and better QOL. We knew from previous research that women in the CBSM intervention group showed similar benefits, so what was most interesting about this study is that we found additional benefits from being physically active. Such that, women who were in the CBSM group and correspondingly increased their physically activity, showed the most benefit on outcomes of fatigue, QOL, and depression.” 

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