Campus & Community

Exercise shown to promote breast cancer suvival

2 min read

Women who walk three to five hours a week 50 percent less likely to die from breast cancer

Holmes: 'Women who are physically active after breast cancer diagnosis may lower their risk of death from breast cancer and cancer recurrence.' (Staff photo Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard News Office)

Exercise plays a role in preventing breast cancer, and research strongly suggests that breast cancer patients who are more physically active improve their self-esteem and body image. Now, a landmark study from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) finds that exercise after diagnosis may help breast cancer patients live longer. The study appears in the May 25 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

According to lead author BWH researcher Michelle D. Holmes, “It is well established that exercise plays an important role in preventing many diseases, including breast cancer. However, we found that women who are physically active after breast cancer diagnosis may lower their risk of death from breast cancer and cancer recurrence.”

The study included almost 3,000 women who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1984 and 1998 and followed by questionnaires until June 2002.

Holmes and her team report these major findings:

  • Any amount of exercise, even walking just one hour per week, helped promote breast cancer survival.
  • Compared with physically inactive women with breast cancer, women who engaged in moderate exercise equivalent to three to five hours of walking per week lowered their risk of death by approximately 50 percent.
  • Beyond this threshold (three to five hours of walking at a moderate pace) there appeared to be little evidence of increased benefit from more exercise.
  • Women who received the greatest benefit from exercise had the most common type of cancer, one in which the breast tumors are susceptible to hormone levels. This finding suggests that exercise may improve survival by reducing hormone levels and thereby suppress tumor growth and recurrence.”Currently, only a third of breast cancer survivors meet government recommended activity guidelines,” Holmes said. “The results tell us that if women with breast cancer are active they may live longer as well as better.”