Written by Vilita Cruz
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This cause is close to my heart. As a former healthcare worker, I witnessed first hand the demise of my mother’s life to this disease. My mother was a chain smoker, refused to watch her diet, and hated the mention of exercise. I loved my mom, I just wish she understood that she was stacking the odds against herself! According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some individuals carry a higher risk due to family history; however, other lifestyle risk factors include abuse of tobacco and alcohol, obesity, not exercising, environmental pollution, and taking hormones for long extended periods of time. In 2020, WHO reported 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer, with 685,000 of those cases resulting in death. Although exercise cannot prevent or cure breast cancer, it can have huge benefits for those undergoing or recovering from treatment.
In the last decade, there has been an increase in studies regarding breast cancer patients and how exercise has impacted their lives. The consensus from the National Institute of Health (NIH) sub division National Cancer Institute (NCI) is that exercise helps breast cancer patients both during and post treatments. Furthermore, NCI-funded studies indicated that survivors who kept exercising were 40-53% more likely to keep the cancer from returning compared to the non active patient population. Participants in exercise programs saw positive effects in aerobic capacity, physical function, flexibility, body image, mental health and overall quality of life compared to their non active counterparts.
There are challenges to staying active during and after cancer treatment, but overall, exercise generally helps. Treatments for cancer can include surgery, hormone therapy, chemotherapy and radiation. Each individual’s cancer is specific and personal. One individual might elect chemotherapy, whereas another person may choose all of the above therapies based on rate of metastasis and location. Both treatments and medications may have unwanted side effects such as swelling, vertigo, pain and fatigue, to name a few. The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University advocates exercise to help minimize such side effects.
If you are going through cancer treatment, communication is key – speak with your healthcare providers and obtain clearance regardless of whether exercising is new to you. It is a helpful measure for you as an individual and for us trainers so we can modify or create an exercise regime appropriate for your needs throughout your treatment and post treatment. Whether you work with a personal trainer or plan to attend a fitness class, make sure to tell the fitness professional your status. It will result in a better quality and safer experience for you!