Studies examine effects of physical activity on combatting breast cancer



Two ongoing studies at the Yale School of Medicine are probing a direct link between physical exercise and breast cancer risk and recovery, giving patients a rare chance to actively improve their prognosis.

The Yale Exercise and Survivorship Study and the Impact Study, both of which began in January, are focused on correlating long-term health with exercise in women with breast cancer. The Exercise and Survivorship Study is currently recruiting breast cancer survivors — women who have been living with cancer and have finished treatment — while the Impact Study is seeking women recently diagnosed with breast cancer, said Melinda Irwin, the studies’ principal investigator.

“The studies going on at Yale are exercise interventions among breast cancer survivors,” said Irwin, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale School of Medicine. “Some of the research from other studies has shown that physical activity is associated with factors such as estrogen in healthy women, but it hasn’t been studied in women with breast cancer.”

The studies’ coordinators said the research is aimed at providing a new method for women to proactively combat cancer risk.

“We know that exercise can play a direct role in so many other things, so we’re hoping to prove that it can play a direct role in breast cancer,” said Marty Alvarez-Reeves, project manager on the Yale Exercise and Survivorship Study. “This is the first trial to look specifically at these two biomarkers of breast density and estrogen level in the blood.”

The women in the study exercise five days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes, Irwin said. Three of the days must be at the researchers’ health club, while the other two can be at home.

Irwin said to measure progress, the women keep daily activity logs and have a personal trainer, who makes direct observations. Also, the subjects wear heart rate monitors and pedometers, recording their total activity on a daily basis. Every six months the women fill out questionnaires, Irwin said.

She said she plans to recruit 100 women for the Exercise and Survivorship Study and 50 women for the Impact Study.

Alvarez-Reeves said recruitment is well underway for the Exercise and Survivorship Study, with about 40 of the 100 women needed already participating in the study. Currently, 17 women are exercising in the study, she said.

“There’s a handful of women who have made it to six months or more [in the program],” Alvarez-Reeves said. “Most women are in the phase of 3 to 6 months. Almost all of them will be monitored for a year.”

Rajni Mehta, associate director of the Rapid Case Ascertainment, is in charge of locating women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer and meet the criteria to partake in the studies. She said the RCA is continuing to locate subjects for both studies through the Yale Cancer Center.

“The RCA basically provides us with women who have had breast cancer,” Alvarez-Reeves said.

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