Exercise, particularly combined training, may be a safe and effective option for patients with breast cancer to improve their quality of life, according to a study published in Supportive Care in Cancer.

As advancements in cancer care lead to improvements in survival outcomes, a greater emphasis is being placed on the long-term quality of life of survivors. Previous studies have demonstrated that exercise improves physical functioning, coping with adverse events, and quality of life; for this study, the authors evaluated the most recent evidence. 

In this systematic review, researchers assessed the data of 36 randomized studies that evaluated the impact of exercise compared with usual care — which did not include any exercise — on quality of life among 3914 patients with breast cancer. Trials were separated according to modes of exercise: aerobic, resistance, and combination training. 

Of the 25 studies, representing a total of 2327 patients, that examined aerobic exercise (eg, walking, yoga, dancing), 3 reported no significant benefit from aerobic exercise compared with usual care. The other 22 studies showed significant improvements in quality of life. 

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Eight studies assessed the impact of resistance training, including training with free weights, resistance training machines, and progressive stretching, involving a total of 1150 participants. One study reported no benefit among those assigned to the intervention arm compared with 7 studies that showed a significant improvement on quality of life. 

All 7 studies that evaluated the effect of combined exercise in 703 patients reported significant positive outcomes and improvements in quality of life and functioning among study participants. 

Although the studies were heterogeneous in exercise intervention and method of quality of life measurements, results showed that exercise — aerobic, resistance, or combination — was an effective means of improving patient quality of life. The authors concluded that “In future research, more high-quality, multicenter trials evaluating the effect of exercise in breast cancer patients are needed.”

Reference

Zhang X, Li Y, Liu D. Effects of exercise on the quality of life in breast cancer patients: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials[published online July 21, 2018]. Support Care Cancer. doi: 10.1007/s00520-018-4363-2