New Studies Show Exercise Is Safe,
Provides Meaningful Improvement for
Breast and Prostate Cancer Patients
Submitted by Ilyse Streim, massage therapist, Good Samaritan’s Center for Integrative
Exercising during and after cancer treatment is safe and improves quality of life, fitness, and physical functioning, according to research presented at the American Institute for Cancer Research’s Research Conference, held from Nov. 14 to 16, 2016 in Washington, D.C.
Brian Focht, Ph.D., of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center in Columbus, and colleagues evaluated the effects of exercise on both prostate cancer patients and breast cancer patients.
WASHINGTON, DC — New studies presented this November at the American Institute
for Cancer Research (AICR) Research Conference provide evidence that exercise is safe
and likely offers powerful benefits for breast and prostate cancer patients, both during
and after treatment.
The studies offer new insights into how aerobic and resistance exercise during treatment
may prevent or delay many of the physical and mental effects that survivors experience.
For example, women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer may face significant
decline in aerobic capacity, placing these survivors at heightened risk of cardiovascular
“The cancer experience – from diagnosis through treatment – has persistent effects that
can last for years,” said Brian Focht, PhD, study author and Director of the Exercise and
Behavioral Medicine Lab at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“As more and more people are successfully getting through cancer treatments, survivors
are experiencing significant effects that meaningfully compromise their physical function
and quality of life, along with heightening their risk of obesity and other chronic
What we are seeing in our studies is there are clear benefits to cancer patients
implementing an exercise program as soon as possible.”
Today, there are more than 15.5 million US cancer survivors and that number is expected
to increase to 20 million in the next decade. Current exercise guidelines for cancer
survivors are broad, stating that survivors should aim to be active. But little is known
about how exercise affects each cancer type and the effect on patients who are
For the breast cancer study, published in the Journal of Community Support Oncology,
Focht and colleagues reviewed 17 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) related to exercise
interventions among women undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. RCTs compare one
group where the women were put on an exercise regimen to a group receiving standard
Trial interventions ranged from 3 to 6 months, both supervised and home based. The
study found that, on average, breast cancer patients who were exercising experienced
improvements in muscular strength, cardiovascular functioning and quality of life
compared to the non-exercising patients.
“Given the incredible amount of variety from study to study,” said Focht, “women were
able to safely exercise during treatment and on top of that, it produced meaningful
improvements in terms of quality of life and fitness outcomes.”
The prostate cancer study, presented in advance of publication, was a pilot RCT
involving 32 men undergoing hormone therapy, called androgen deprivation therapy
(ADT). Side effects of ADT include loss of muscle, increase in fat mass and
osteoporosis. Risk for diabetes and heart disease also increases for these cancer survivors.
Half of the men in the study were randomly assigned to a plant-based diet and a strength
training and aerobic exercise group. The other half received standard care. At the start of
the study, then at 8 weeks and 12 weeks, researchers measured the patients’ body
composition, mobility and strength.
“At the end of three months, there was an astonishing level of improvement among the
intervention group,” said Focht. A timed walk test of about a quarter of a mile (400
meters) showed the men who were eating healthier and exercising were walking three to
four times more quickly than the group receiving standard care. “Functional ability
increased dramatically and along with that, their quality of life — their satisfaction —
Functional ability measures included a lift and carry test, much like if you picked up a
laundry basket and walked it back and forth across a room.
There were also significant changes favoring the intervention group for body
composition. Those in the lifestyle intervention lost 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) and 1
percent of body fat after three months; the standard care group gained almost 1 percent of
• Effects of exercise interventions during different treatments in breast cancer. Fairman CM, Focht BC, Lucas AR, Lustberg MB. J Community Support Oncol. 2016 May;14(5):200-‐9.
• Focht, Brian C.; Lucas, Alexander R.; Grainger, Elizabeth; Simpson, Christina; Fairman, Ciaran M.; Thomas-‐Ahner, Jennifer; Clinton, Steven K. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 48(5S):515, May 2016. Effects of a Combined Exercise and Dietary Intervention on Mobility Performance in Prostate Cancer