Exercise and breast cancer

Exercise and breast cancer

Although we are in the twenty-first century, and in spite of all the evolution in technology and advancement of medicine, cancer oftenly still scares a lot – especially breast cancer, which brings mutilation of the body to many women.

We all know about the importance of prevention, periodic tests and self-examination, but even still, cancer can occur. Once the cancer is diagnosed, the procedures vary, but in many cases chemotherapy is the choice. And again, we have the consequences of treatment, debilitating side effects.

What is more commonly known about the consequences of chemotherapy are loss of hair, eyebrows, weight and appetite and nausea. But there is another little known side effect that is also important, and worse: it lasts longer. Another consequence of the pharmacological treatment of breast cancer is changes in cognition.

There may be a decrease in the number of words that a person remembers, difficulty maintaining focus and attention, decreased ability of new learning and doing more than one task at a time. A decrease in the speed of physical movement and loss in control of them may appear as well. All these difficulties, after learning about a much feared disease, added to chemotherapy treatment, brings changes in emotions. Depression may appear. Tere is no doubt that quality of life becomes very precarious. The time that this loss of cognition lasts is relative and can be up to 21 years after treatment by chemotherapy.

A review study published in 2015 (see the full reference at the end of the text) analyzed the effects of exercise on loss of cognition in these patients. The studies that were analyzed in this review compared the effects of exercise to the ones of a pharmacological treatment in the recovery of cognition after chemotherapy. The results showed that drugs were ineffective in improving the cognitive state of patients, while the physical and mental exercises shown to be effective in promoting improved cognition, memory, verbal function and language, as well as improved orientation and attention. And of course, there are no side effects.

These studies have not determined what are the best exercises, or in which intensity they must be practiced, but the news are very good, because the survival rates of women who had breast cancer is increasing. Healing is a very important step, but keeping quality of life of those women who have gone through this great battle is undoubtedly a must.

Eur J Cancer. 2015 Mar; 51 (4): 437-50. doi: 10.1016 / j.ejca.2014.12.017. Epub 2015 Jan 23.

Systematic review of pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic interventions to manage cognitive Alterations after chemotherapy for breast cancer.

Chan RJ1, McCarthy AL2, Devenish J3, Sullivan KA4, Chan A5.


Dr. Ivani Manzzo is PhD in Science from the School of Medicine UNIFESP – EPM in São Paulo, Brazil, with emphasis on obesity, pregnancy and exercise. In 2010 she began hers studies as Life Coach and has since worked helping people achieve their nutritional and heath goals. These articles are published with Dra Ivani Manzzo’s permission.