Home-based intervention increases physical activity in breast cancer survivors

06/01/05

Leads to improved fitness and psychological well-being

Providence, RI – Leading researchers in behavioral medicine say that breast cancer survivors who receive weekly phone calls and direct mail promoting physical activity are likely to be more physically active and experience improved psychological outcomes.

In a research study published in a recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers from the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital and Brown Medical School in Providence, RI, looked at whether women who had been treated for early-stage breast cancer could adopt a home-based physical activity program and monitored the effects it would have on their fitness, mood, physical symptoms and body image.

"Many treatments for breast cancer are toxic in nature, increasing the risk for a number of medical problems including cardiovascular and pulmonary disease," says Bernardine Pinto, PhD, lead author of the Moving Forward study, staff psychologist at The Miriam Hospital, and associate professor at Brown Medical School. "In addition, some breast cancer survivors report somatic complaints – such as chronic fatigue, weight gain and difficulty sleeping – that linger for months or years after the end of treatment. Physical activity has emerged as a viable intervention to diminish many of these effects, but studies indicate that most cancer patients are not physically active, or they reduce their physical activity during and after cancer treatment."

While previous studies have shown the benefits of promoting physical activity among breast cancer survivors, they tended to involve supervised on-site intervention. Those studies did not take into consideration that some patients may "have limited access to exercise facilities because of transportation or scheduling difficulties," the paper states.

Pinto, along with colleagues from The Miriam Hospital, wanted to offer a program where participants could exercise at home. They randomized a group of 86 sedentary women who had completed treatment for stage 0 to 2 breast cancer into a physical activity (PA) group or a control group. Participants in the PA group received 12 weeks of PA counseling via weekly telephone calls, as well as weekly tip sheets through the mail.

At the end of 12 weeks, researchers also found that participants in the PA group improved significantly on a field test of fitness; after intervention, they were able to complete a 1-mile walk test in significantly less time than the control group participants. In addition, participants in the PA group not only experienced increased levels of physical activity, but reported increased vigor, reduced fatigue and a trend showing improvement in body image.

Pinto states that improvement in psychological measures is a noteworthy outcome because a feeling of enhanced vitality may serve as a motivator for cancer survivors to remain physically active.

"These findings are encouraging because they indicate that PA counseling can be delivered effectively via brief weekly phone contacts and that intensive, on-site interventions are not required to increase physical activity among early-stage breast cancer survivors," Pinto says. "Ultimately, the goal is to develop interventions that can be implemented in community settings so that the greatest number of survivors can benefit. This study represents an important step toward developing simple interventions that do not require specific exercise equipment or face-to-face supervision."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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