Breast cancer: sport could reduce the side effects of radiotherapy

To fight cancer, doctors use procedures that also damage healthy cells in the body. Chemotherapy or radiotherapy patients suffer from many side effects. In the context of breast cancer, sport could help women get rid of one of the most common ones more quickly: fatigue!

Radiotherapy is one of the weapons available to doctors to fight breast cancer. The rays weaken the tumour, but also the neighboring healthy cells and, ultimately, the general condition of the patients. Between 70 and 100% of women who receive radiation therapy suffer from what doctors call cancer-related fatigue; chronic fatigue that a good night’s sleep does not help, which appears during radiotherapy sessions and persists afterwards. The daily life of the women concerned is then more difficult. Cancer-related fatigue also negatively impacts the daily health of patients.

Faced with this very frequent side effect of radiotherapy, doctors recommend that patients rest during their treatment and the weeks that follow. However, a study published in breast-cancer suggests that a sporting activity helps women get rid of cancer-related fatigue more quickly.

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Exercising to fight fatigue

The experiment was conducted with 106 female volunteers, all suffering from breast cancer, and aged on average 50 years. The scientists suggested that they follow a twelve-week sports program that includes bodyweight exercises and dumbbell exercises (aerobics and exercises with weights), which can be done at home and without the help of a professional. coach. The intensity and frequency of the exercises are adapted to each participant. At the end, only 89 of them went through with the experiment. Their state of health was compared to that of a second cohort made up of patients also suffering from breast cancer but who followed the usual recommendations.

The sports program showed positive results at six weeks after radiotherapy. Women who have taken it are already reporting benefits on their fatigue, whereas for non-athletes, cancer-related fatigue only decreases after six months. Nevertheless, this positive effect does not persist beyond twelve weeks, according to statistical analyses. At six months post-radiation, the two groups of women report a comparable quality of life. Moreover, the sport had no effect on the quality of their sleep which, in both groups, is considered to be poor.

A beneficial practice as long as it is maintained

The protocol has several limitations. Depending on their state of health, the participants were not able to follow the same program. It was difficult for them to do more than 150 minutes of sport per week. With few exceptions, most of them did between 30 to 40 minutes of sport per week. However, scientists have observed benefits even for the least intense programs. Scientists note that exercise can have a positive effect on cancer-related fatigue if practiced on a regular basis because it disappears as soon as patients stop moving.

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