You may be familiar with the statistics on breast cancer in America. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetimes, and even some men develop breast cancer. You probably also know that early detection is really key in order to combat the disease and there are even genetic markers that can help to detect breast cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages.
And you probably also know that there is a risk for breast cancer to resurface even after a seemingly successful treatment regimen. What you may not have known is that once a patient has been diagnosed and even successfully treated for breast cancer that they are now at greater risk for cardiovascular disease. That just seems wrong, but the facts are there and in fact, the breast cancer survivors will potentially develop a more difficult cardiovascular problem than the heart patients who did not have breast cancer.
So, scientists set out to determine how breast cancer survivors can catch a break. They carefully matched two groups of women who had managed to beat breast cancer. The women in the two groups were similar ages, had undergone similar treatments and had approximately the same BMI, a measure of weight and fat. One group, however was introduced to a fairly aggressive program of weight training, aerobic exercise and stretching. They exercised with an instructor for 60 minutes twice a week and exercised on their own for two more 60 minute sessions for a total of 240 minutes a week. The other group just had their normal activities of daily living.
Both groups were tested at baseline in a way that competitive athletes often are by measuring how efficiently their bodies use oxygen, a test call the VO2 MAX test. The VO2 MAX for the group getting physical training was up only .3% at the end of a year, but the less active group was down by 3.8%. The difference was even more pronounced in women who were continuing on chemotherapy.
Comparing exercise with the non-exercise groups using a standard cardiac risk measure that cardiologists call the Framingham Risk Score (takes into account blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and more), the exercise group did 11% better than the non-exercise group in reducing their risk. The odds of that happening just by chance are one in one thousand. So, if a woman beats the odds on breast cancer, the smart money on getting a healthier heart in the deal certainly favor exercise.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.