Weight training significantly improves the quality of life of women recently treated for breast cancer

September 27, 2015

Published in the May 1, 2006 issue of CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the study indicates six months of twice weekly exercise that improved strength and body composition was enough to result in improvements in the overall physical and emotional condition of the patients. This is the first randomized trial to study the effects of weight training on quality of life in breast cancer patients.

Newly diagnosed and treated breast cancer patients often suffer from a multitude of quality of life limiting complaints, including insomnia, weight gain, chronic fatigue, depression, and anxiety. While efficacious treatments for breast cancer have progressed rapidly in recent years, developing new management strategies for these secondary complaints, often related to the treatment itself, is only a recent area of study.

Exercise has been identified as a possible treatment for quality of life-limiting symptoms. A recent review of the effect of aerobic exercise on quality of life among recently treated breast cancer survivors indicated an effect only half as large as the effect noted from six months of strength training. This study represents the first exploration of the effect of strength training on quality of life among breast cancer survivors.

Tetsuya Ohira, M.D. of the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota and colleagues evaluated the efficacy of weight training to improve depressive symptoms and quality of life in breast cancer survivors. Eighty-six women within 36 months of treatment were treated with either a weight training exercise program or no treatment.

Compared to no exercise regimen, weight training improved the women's overall physical and psychosocial quality of life. Significant improvements in lean body mass and upper body strength had the greatest impact on symptoms. "Changes in body composition and strength," conclude the authors, may empower these women with "a sense of return to feeling in control of their bodies that may translate into feeling greater efficacy in other areas of life."

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Another topical example of complexity in access to treatments is the case of the drug trastuzumab (Herceptin.). Currently the drug is licensed by the EMEA (European Medicines Agency) for women with advanced stage breast cancer but not for those with the early stages of the disease. The recent results of four large clinical trials showed a significant reduction in breast cancer recurrence for women with HER2 positive breast cancer, when given the drug post-surgery. Breast cancer doctors claim that the results of the four trials are sufficiently compelling to recommend adjuvant trastuzumab as a standard option after surgery in appropriate patients. The lagtime between the announcement of the results of the clinical trials and the submission of the applications by the industry, the lack of clear definition of 'appropriate patients', the diversity of the national healthcare systems (even within the EU) and their heterogeneous policies of reimbursement may prevent hundreds of patients enjoying the benefits of this drug when they need it.

Dr Alberto Costa, President of the EBCC-5 conference comments, "Action needs to be taken so that women in different countries have equal and quick access to new and better treatments and procedures. It is regrettable that so many women are still not receiving the treatment that gives them the best chance of survival and best quality of life."

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