Researchers have discovered that cardio fitness levels may be important indicators of breast cancer survival. Exercise may be beneficial during and after treatment.
Exercise tolerance tests are used to measure cardiopulmonary function—how well your heart and lungs work. It’s an important indicator of health and longevity. Researchers at Duke University Medical Center are among the first to apply these tests to breast cancer patients to see what kind of effect cancer treatments may have on the heart, lungs, and body during exercise.
Their results indicate that breast cancer treatments significantly reduce cardiopulmonary function—a problem that can persist for years after treatment ends. Researchers speculate that poor cardiopulmonary function may be a strong indicator of survival for women with advanced breast cancer.
The study involved 248 women, all at different stages of breast cancer treatment. All women were rode a stationary bike until they reached their maximum level of exertion. Their VO2-peak measurement was taken, and they were tested while at rest.
All breast cancer patients, regardless of treatment stage, had significantly worse cardiopulmonary function than inactive healthy women of the same age. This diminished fitness level persisted in women who had ended their cancer treatments years previously with one-third of participants testing below the score required to function independently.
The importance of cardio fitness
Advanced breast cancer patients with higher levels of cardiopulmonary fitness had higher median survival rates (36 months) compared to women with lower cardio fitness levels (16 months).
The good news is that we can improve our fitness level. “Fitness level may be an important biomarker of survival among cancer patients,” says Lee Jones, PhD, lead author of the study. “But the beautiful thing about fitness is that we can improve it with exercise training. Although we currently do not know if improving fitness in cancer patients is associated with longer survival, our data provides initial evidence to pursue this question.”