In a recent study, investigators reported their findings on a group of 2202 women with breast cancer who were followed for up to 11-years after their initial treatment. During the study, the authors prospectively assessed the patients’ physical attributes, functions and limitations (i.e. endurance, strength, muscle range of motion, muscle dexterity, body mass index, smoking, physical activity) and other variables (i.e. sociodemographic factors, comorbodities, tumor charactersistics, treament.)
They discovered that 39% of all cancer survivors (and 50% in those over the age of 65) reported at least one significant physical impairment! The patients reported impairments affecting strength, motion, dexterity (i.e. inability to kneel, to lift items heavier than 10 pounds or to handle small objects, to stand in place, to sit for long periods, to walk up and down a flight of stairs, to walk 2-3 city blocks.)
When the patients were assessed for the effects of physical impairments on survival rates, the authors found that the women with the earliest stage breast cancers (i.e. stage 1) had a significantly higher risk of dying (260% greater!) from a cause other than cancer (i.e. cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc.) than those without a physical impairment.
The impact of these findings should influence the practice of every oncologist and primary care provider for the following reasons:
- Assessing for physical impairments and initiating or referring affected patients for therapy has been demonstrated to increase overall performance status, strength, endurance, flexibility, quality of life, reduce pain and reduce the risk of dying from non-cancer causes.
- Increasingly studies are demonstrating the positive effects of regular physical activity (as little as 30 minutes of moderately paced walking, each day) on reducing cancer recurrence rates.
As an integrative oncologist, discussions about the potential untoward side effects and complications from cancer and cancer treatment are commonplace in our practice. Integrative oncology recognizes the complex interaction between the patient, their cancer (and other medical problems) and the treatment. Educating our patients on the early identification and management of these potential issues may not only improve quality of life…it may also be lifesaving.
I highly recommend selecting rehabilitation providers and trainers who are educated and experienced in working with cancer survivors. The American College of Sports Medicine offers a specialized certification program co-sponsored by the American Cancer Society, called a “Certified Cancer Exercise Trainer”. To find out more about this program, click here.