Breast cancer patients struggle with physical limitations after treatment

With better detection and treatment, more breast cancer patients are surviving longer. Yet, despite improved survival rates, many patients struggle with physical limitations after treatment – as many as 39 percent, according to the new findings – yet little attention has been paid to those limitations and related problems, particularly among older women.

A new study published online in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, provides evidence of why it is important to develop interventions that improve physical function, to mitigate the adverse effects of physical limitations.

The research, the first of its kind, points to risk factors where, with simple modifications in habits that allow more physical activity, health might be greatly improved. “Intervention strategies – on the part of the individual, the community and the health provider – should emphasize physically active lifestyles.” said Dejana Braithwaite, PhD, first author of the study and assistant professor of Cancer Epidemiology at UCSF’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. Braithwaite collaborated with researchers at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California, the University of Utah, the University of California and Brock University in Canada.

“When we talk about improving physical function, we are talking about improving a woman’s ability to perform normal functions of everyday life, like walking around the block, getting up easily from a chair or carrying a heavy bag of groceries,” said Bette Caan, DRPH, senior author and principal investigator of the Life After Cancer Epidemiology Study and Senior Research Scientist at Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. “These activities appear to make a difference in a woman’s chance of survival after a breast cancer diagnosis.”

“There is increasing evidence that regular physical activity, as little as 30 minutes of moderate intensity walking each day, can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence,” said study co-author Patricia Ganz, MD, a medical oncologist and director of cancer prevention and control at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Women with functional limitations are less likely to be able to maintain regular physical activity and would likely benefit from intervention to reduce their limitations and increase physical activity.”