Exercise therapy benefits breast cancer survivors

Exercise offers several benefits for breast cancer survivors, including reduced symptoms of lymphedema, according to a new study. Also, exercise lowered the proportion of women with lymphedema onset (8%) or the need for therapist-delivered treatment (19%), improved upper and lower body strength (13% and 9%, respectively), and improved body image (16%). No adverse effects were noted for the intervention.

This study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monographs (2014; doi:10.1093/jncimonographs/lgu033) and conducted by researchers from the Abramson Cancer Center and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, investigated the ease and effectiveness of transporting a research-based treatment into a practice setting.

The primary goal of the study was to demonstrate program effectiveness for patients after transition from research to a practice setting. The secondary goal was to understand the implementation process and identify barriers to implementation.

The second aim of the study allowed the team to take the research into a new direction. Led by first author, Rinad Beidas, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry, the team sought to identify barriers to implementation of the program.

The researchers were able to identify a number of factors that potentially hindered the implementation process, including intervention characteristics, payment, eligibility criteria, the referral process, the need for champions, and the need to adapt during implementation of the intervention.

"The results of this study are exciting because they demonstrate that an evidence-based exercise and education program for breast cancer survivors can be translated to a new setting while still remaining effective and safe," said Beidas. "Importantly, we were also able to identify the types of barriers that should be addressed when taking this program to scale, which provides important information translating research into practice, which historically has taken up to 17 years."

Strength after Breast Cancer was developed by the study's senior author Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, MPH, professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and a member of the Abramson Cancer Center. It is based on a 2011 study showing that, contrary to what was previously believed, exercise and weightlifting can be extremely beneficial for breast cancer survivors.

Administered by physical therapists, Strength after Breast Cancer includes group based exercise classes and an exercise program for patients to continue at home or a gym.

The program is now available at a broad variety of venues across the Delaware Valley region and beyond. Schmitz also plans to develop an online training course for physical therapists to be able to make the Strength after Breast Cancer program available to survivors across the United States.

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