Reduced menopausal symptoms from breast cancer treatment through exercise and behavioral therapy

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Treatment-related menopausal symptoms were relieved for women with breast cancer who received cognitive behavioral therapy, physical exercise, or both.

This study randomly assigned 422 patients to behavioral therapy, physical activity, an intervention combining the two, or a control group that received usual care. The study sought to evaluate the effects of psychosocial interventions and exercise on menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats, and also on sexual functioning, psychological well-being, and health-related quality of life. The patients reported their symptoms at the start of the study, at 12 weeks, and at 6 months.

The women who received the interventions had statistically significant lower levels of endocrine and urinary symptoms compared with the control group. Also, behavioral therapy and physical activity had a positive effect on physical functioning. Most of the positive effects were observed at both the 12-week and 6-month follow-ups.

However, the researchers noted that physical activity “affects primarily the frequency with which endocrine symptoms are experienced, but not the frequency of hot flashes and night sweats specifically.” In contrast, cognitive therapy “seems to not only affect symptom frequency, but also the perceived burden of hot flashes and night sweats.”

A related editorial by Mayo Clinic researchers Drs. Debra Barton and Charles Loprinzi commented that, despite its limitations, the study demonstrated that “it is not sufficient to consider only biomedical influences [on symptoms]. …For complete symptom resolution, it may be necessary to address both the physiological expression and psychosocial context of the symptom.”

This study was reported in Journal of Clinical Oncology (2012; doi:10.1200/JCO.2012.41.8525).
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