Exercise can boost quality of life, reduce fatigue in patients with metastatic breast cancer

Structured exercise can reduce fatigue and improve quality of life in patients with metastatic cancer, according to new global research.

The PREFERABLE-EFFECT trial involved 357 patients with metastatic breast cancer from Australia, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, and Sweden.

ACU’s Dr Eva Zopf, from the Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research, led the study in Australia in collaboration with Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne Health and Cabrini Health. The data is currently being prepared for publication in a peer reviewed journal.

Results from the study, which showed supervised exercise during palliative treatment for metastatic breast cancer had significant beneficial effects on patients’ fatigue and health-related quality of life, were presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas, today.

Researchers have now called for supervised resistance and aerobic exercise to be routinely prescribed to patients with metastatic breast cancer as a part of supportive cancer care.

Dr Zopf said breast cancer treatment can have a devastating effect on people’s lives, causing serious health issues that compromise physical and mental wellbeing including fatigue, nausea, pain, and shortness of breath.

She said it is now recognised that cancer patients who exercise regularly experience fewer and less severe side effects from treatments.

“Previous research has primarily looked at the effects of exercise programs on patients with less advanced cancer and found it was beneficial – especially boosting patient’s energy levels – but patients with metastatic disease had not been rigorously studied to see if they experienced the same benefits,” Dr Zopf said.

All study participants received a physical activity tracker and generic exercise advice, but 178 patients were randomly assigned to a supervised exercise program for nine months involving balance, resistance, and aerobic exercises.

The first six months included two one-hour supervised exercise sessions per week. In the last three months, one supervised session was replaced by an unsupervised session, which was supplemented by an exercise app. Study participants were comprehensively assessed at enrolment and after three, six, and nine months.

The study found that the exercise program was not only effective at improving quality of life and reducing fatigue but also at decreasing other common side-effects, such as pain and shortness of breath. The nine-month intervention improved physical fitness and may have also encouraged longer-term exercise participation.

“Patients have told us that they not only felt better and stronger being part of the trial but also that it helped them better understand what they need to be doing in terms of exercise,” Dr Zopf said.

Study lead Professor Anne May from the Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care at the University Medical Center in the Netherlands said optimising quality of life is especially important for patients living with metastatic disease who undergo continuous treatment.

“By improving quality of life through enhanced symptom management, we can help patients better enjoy their personal, social, and, if applicable, working life,” Professor May said.

Cancer affects one in two Australians, with one diagnosed every four minutes. Yet only one in 10 of those diagnosed meet the current exercise guidelines for cancer patients during and after their treatment. Dr Zopf said every one of those patients would benefit from exercise.

Funding for this study was provided by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program and by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.

Media Contact: Elisabeth Tarica, Australian Catholic University on 0418 756 941 or elisabeth.tarica@acu.edu.au

Australian Catholic University has specialists who can comment on news matters relating to their area of expertise. Please direct requests to ACU’s Media Team at acu.edu.au/media-enquiries.


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