New research suggests telephone-based counseling, when combined with physician advice, can help breast cancer survivors with their recovery.
Investigators determined the telephonic counseling helps women become more physically active, improving quality of life and lessening the side effects of cancer treatment.
Investigators discovered that women who received exercise advice from their surgeon or oncologist, followed by three months of telephone support, reported 30 more minutes of physical activity per week than patients who received exercise advice and followup calls about their general health.
Researchers say the findings, published in the current issue of Health Psychology, reinforce the benefits of exercise in cancer recovery, including improved physical functioning.
Physical activity has also been shown to reduce cancer-related fatigue and the risk for other chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and osteoporosis.
“Breast cancer patients are followed by their health care providers for a long time after treatment, which presents many opportunities for providers to share advice about physical activity and other healthy lifestyle changes,” said lead author Bernardine M. Pinto, Ph.D.
She points out there are more than 11 million cancer survivors in the U.S.
“As survival rates improve, cancer is often viewed less as a death sentence and more as a chronic disease,” said Pinto.
“Cancer patients are interested in what they can do to improve their well-being, and getting advice from the care providers they see regularly can certainly help in adopting healthy lifestyles, including becoming physically active.”
Telephone-based interventions to promote exercise in the general population have been largely successful, offering such unique advantages such as convenience and access.
Researchers believe that having health care providers play a role in after-care is a key factor for the study’s success.
Previous interventions promoting exercise among cancer survivors did not involve health care providers and most studies to date have not assessed long-term physical activity outcomes.
Pinto and colleagues conducted a randomized trial involving 192 breast cancer patients.
Oncologists and surgeons were asked to provide brief physical activity advice to patients who had completed treatment for Stage 0-IV breast cancer, including a recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week and scheduling followup with research staff.
The 106 women who were randomized to the telephone counseling group received eight telephone calls over 12 weeks from counselors who monitored and supported their physical activity efforts.
The remaining 86 participants assigned to the control group received the same number and frequency of telephone calls that focused on their general health. All participants were assessed at baseline and again at three, six and 12 months.
Pinto and her team say patients in the telephone counseling group had considerably higher levels of physical activity and were almost twice as likely to meet national recommendations of 150 minutes per week of exercise three and six months later.
Telephone counseling also significantly improved patients’ motivational readiness throughout the 12-month study period, suggesting the potential for exercise promotion in cancer followup care.
Pinto notes this is the first trial that has included a role for the cancer provider and integrated advice about exercise into regular medical appointments.
“Our study clearly shows it’s possible for motivated health care providers to provide brief advice to their patients during a followup visit,” she said.
“While we can’t be sure physician advice alone would suffice, our results do suggest that health care provider advice will require supplementation, whether it’s telephone counseling or some other mode of delivery, to support the adoption and maintenance of physical activity in cancer patients.”