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Neglected Part Of Breast-Cancer Care: Cardio

May 25, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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One third of women being treated for breast cancer had a cardiopulmonary function score below the level that suggested they could function independently, meaning that they could do household tasks, go up and down stairs, or walk a half mile, according to a new study.

The study found that breast cancer treatment takes a shockingly heavy and long-lasting toll on cardiopulmonary fitness. Even patients who had completed cancer therapy years previously showed markedly impaired cardiopulmonary function.

Lee W. Jones, PhD, lead author of the study, said:

Fitness level may be an important biomarker of survival among cancer patients. But the beautiful thing about fitness is that we can improve it with exercise training. Although we currently do not know if improving fitness in cancer patients is associated with longer survival, our data provides initial evidence to pursue this question.

Dr. Jones is associate professor of radiation oncology, pathology, and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine. He was quoted in a Duke Medicine news release. The study was published online Monday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Breast cancer chemotherapy can impair the functioning of the heart, red blood cells, and muscle cells. The physical stress of cancer treatment can also influence patients to become less active.

“We know that exercise-tolerance tests, which measure cardiopulmonary function, are among some of the most important indicators of health and longevity in people who do not have cancer,” Dr. Jones said. “However, relatively little research has been done assessing the clinical importance of these tests in patients with cancer.

“Our work provides initial insights into the effects a cancer diagnosis and subsequent therapy may have on how the heart, lungs, and rest of the body work together during exercise.”

Dr. Jones and his colleagues measured cardiopulmonary function at rest and during exercise in 248 women in various stages of treatment for breast cancer. They found that their subjects, regardless of the stage or type of treatment, exhibited significantly worse cardiopulmonary function than healthy women of the same age who were sedentary.

The researchers also found that, among patients with advanced breast cancer, the median survival rate was 36 months for patients with high fitness compared with 16 months for the low-fitness patients.

Dr. Jones and his team at Duke have several studies under way that examine the effect of exercise on patients with cancer, including breast cancer. Even as we await the results, the current study is a good reminder for all of us to get up off the couch more often.

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Related seminar: Breast Imaging and Digital Mammography (all-new release)

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