Why exercise should be a routine part of chemo

Australian study shows it protects the heart

Patients who exercise while undergoing chemotherapy will lessen their chance of heart disease later in life, new research suggests.

An Australian study of breast cancer patients shows that 13 weeks of chemotherapy causes the heart to age by an equivalent of six years. Regular exercise, however, appears to be protective.

Lead researcher, cardiologist Associate Professor Andre La Gerche at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, says the "striking" findings reinforce the importance of exercise for people with cancer.

"With more women surviving early-stage breast cancer, studies show they are more likely to die from heart disease than cancer," says Professor La Gerche.

"I think that our data is quite simple and useful — essentially that exercise during chemotherapy prevents accelerated cardiovascular ageing associated with chemotherapy."

Using exercise magnetic resonance imaging, researchers at the Baker institute monitored the heart function of 29 women undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.

For the trial, half the group undertook a supervised exercise program over a 13-week period.

The preliminary results show that with the supervised exercise regime, fitness levels and quality of life of the patients were maintained. However, there was a significant reduction in physical capacity in the women who did not undergo training.

"The striking result was of the group not participating in the exercise program, their health declined an equivalent of six years of normal ageing in just 13 weeks," says Professor La Gerche.

"When the heart was stressed with exercise and VO2 max test results were compared, we found that the ability to use oxygen in non-exercisers fell by 16%."