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09 February 2018

Preliminary results of an Australian study has shown exercise helped protect the heart function of breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Cancer 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 has shown just 13 weeks of chemotherapy caused the heart to age by an equivalent of six years.

Regular exercise, however, appeared to prevent such damage associated with the life-saving yet toxic anti-cancer treatment.

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," said 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, also known as CMR, 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, released on Friday, showed with the supervised exercise regime, fitness levels and quality of life of the patients were maintained, while there was a significant reduction in physical capacity in the subjects 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," said 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 per cent," he explained.

Late last year, research was presented at the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia's Annual Scientific Meeting that showed the most unwell cancer patients have the most to gain from getting active.

This led to calls for exercise to become part of routine clinical care.

Professor Prue Cormie from the Australian Catholic University says if you could put all the effects of exercise into a pill "it would be the most widely prescribed prescription medication".

"Our study showed that the people with cancer who benefit the most from a structured exercise program, are actually those who are the most tired, distressed and physically impaired," Professor Cormie said.

The benefits included improved physical fitness and function, reduced cancer-related fatigue and psychological distress, and better overall quality of life.

original SBS News story

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