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Return to Exercise Helps After Breast Cancer Therapy Overview

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Exercise Helps After Breast Cancer Therapy

Breaking News - June 2005 - Week 3

(Jun 15, 2005)

Healthcare in  the News

-- More evidence is trickling in that aspects of everyday life, including exercise, eating habits, and even a common spice, can affect the incidence and course of breast cancer.

People work out in a dance class

Three studies chronicling such findings were presented at the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program meeting in Philadelphia. The program is a collaboration among the military, scientists, clinicians, and breast cancer survivors.

Infection-Fighting Cells Increase with Exercise

In the first study, researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that women with breast cancer who exercised after chemotherapy experienced an increase in infection-fighting T-cells.

It is already well known that chemotherapy reduces a person's lymphocytes, compromising the immune system.

"Chemotherapy will destroy dividing cells, including cells in the immune system," confirms study author Andrea Mastro, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology and cell biology.

Exercise has been shown to help prevent cancer, help patients survive cancer, and increase T-cells in AIDS patients, she says.

For this study, 49 women between the ages of 29 and 71 were assigned to either an exercise group or a non-exercise group. Women in the exercise group began their routines usually within a month of finishing chemotherapy.

The workouts, which could be done at home or at a gym, consisted of stretching, Flexbands for resistance training, and an aerobic activity, such as a treadmill, exercise bike, or walking.

Not only did the exercisers show more activated T-cells than non-exercisers, they also showed improvements in upper-body strength, maximal oxygen intake, quality of life, social well-being, and fatigue.

"There's no evidence that there was any harm," Dr. Mastro says. "The women on the exercise program were more physically fit, had a better outlook, and a better quality of life. As a bonus, their immune cells were better."

Lab Study Show Spice's Benefits

The second study provides evidence that curcumin, a component of the spice turmeric, may reduce the spread of breast cancer to the lungs, at least in mice.

The experiment, which was done twice, involved growing grafts of human breast cancer in mice, surgically removing them, then dividing the mice into four groups and treating them with curcumin alone; Taxol® (a chemotherapy drug) alone; curcumin plus Taxol; or nothing (control group).

At the end of five weeks, all but the control group had shown signs of containing the cancer, with the greatest impact seen in the two groups of mice receiving the curcumin.

The second time the study was done, the results were similar except that curcumin outshone even Taxol.

"In the first study, curcumin and Taxol together were very synergistic," says study author Bharat B. Aggarwal, Ph.D., chief of the Cytokine Research Section in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

"In the second study, we found that we did not need even Taxol," he adds. "Curcumin alone gave the same results. We still do not know if we need Taxol, or if we can do without it. We'll only know that if we do a third study."

Dr. Aggarwal and his colleagues are applying for funding for that third study, which would observe the effects of curcumin in humans.

Mice Study Suggests Yo-Yo Dieting Lowers Risk

Finally, another mouse study indicated that on-again, off-again dieting may actually prevent breast cancer in postmenopausal women. Mice on the so-called "yo-yo" diet regimen had a 96 percent reduction in cancer, compared to the animals allowed to eat whatever they wanted.

The results were surprising to the researchers who had initially thought the effect of this yo-yo pattern would be detrimental.

"This is the way people used to eat," says study author Margot Cleary, Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Minnesota's Hormel Institute in Austin. "For many, many centuries for human beings it was feast or famine. Maybe the body has adapted to that."

Whether the findings will apply to humans remains to be seen but, if they do, they would add a new twist to what is known about nutrition and disease.

"It's been well known for decades that chronic food restriction is protective against lots of things, not just cancer, but it was thought the protective effect existed to the degree you restricted calories," Dr. Cleary explains.

"Our results show that it's really the manner that you receive these calories that can have a significant effect on what the impact is," she notes.

Always consult your physician for more information.

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this Web site.

National Cancer Institute Breast Cancer Prevention Studies

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), breast cancer prevention studies are clinical trials involving women who have not had cancer, but are at high risk of developing the disease.

In the Breast Cancer Prevention Trial (BCPT), the women who received tamoxifen had a lower incidence of breast cancer than the women who did not receive the medication.

Results of this study were published in 1998. The study began recruiting participants in April 1992 and closed enrollment in September 1997. Researchers studied 13,388 premenopausal and postmenopausal women at more than 300 centers across the US and Canada.

Another clinical trial, currently underway, the Study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene (STAR), is comparing raloxifene with tamoxifen. The 19,000 participants are postmenopausal women who are at least 35 years old and are at increased risk for developing breast cancer. Results of this study are expected in 2006.

The Capital Area SERM Study is testing raloxifene in premenopausal women who are at high risk for breast cancer. The NCI is evaluating the safety of raloxifene in premenopausal women between the ages of 23 and 47 who are at increased risk for breast cancer. Thirty-seven women enrolled in this study. A complete report of the findings will be published in 2005.

Other breast cancer prevention studies are in progress. Medications called aromatase inhibitors, which have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat hormone-sensitive breast cancer, are being studied in clinical trials for breast cancer prevention.

These medications interfere with the adrenal enzyme aromatase, which is responsible for estrogen production in postmenopausal women.

The NCI is also studying prevention options for women at high risk of breast cancer that is not sensitive to hormones and can be more difficult to treat than hormone-sensitive breast cancer.

Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

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