Exercise after breast cancer extends life

From Orlando, Fla., at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research

After a woman survives an initial bout with breast cancer, being physically active improves her odds of beating the disease over the long term, a new study finds. Women who perform the equivalent of just 1 to 3 hours of walking per week have 23 percent less chance of dying from recurrent cancer than do more sedentary women. More activity approximately doubles that protective edge, reports Michelle D. Holmes of Harvard Medical School in Boston. Overweight survivors glean the most pronounced benefit, she finds.

Holmes and her collaborators analyzed data on 2,167 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer between 1984 and 1996 as part of a large health study. All had survived initial treatments such as chemotherapy and then provided information about their level of physical activity at least 1 year after their treatments ended. The researchers continued to track the women until 2002, though 346 died before then, most from cancer recurrence.

As an added benefit from exercise, active breast cancer survivors enjoy a reduced risk of dying from other causes, Holmes reports.

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