OHSU Cancer Institute Study Looks At Right Dose Of Stretching, Strengthening For Cancer Survivors

01/14/08  Portland, Ore

Patients get told by their physicians what medicine to take and at what dose. But what kind of exercise and how much is good for breast and prostate cancer patients?

 Patients get told by their physicians what medicine to take and at what dose. But what kind of exercise and how much is good for breast and prostate cancer patients?

That perfect dose of exercise is what Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute member Kerri Winters-Stone, Ph.D., is trying to figure out. In three separate but similar studies, she is studying strength and flexibility training with: women who have had breast cancer who were 50 and older at diagnosis or who experienced early menopause from cancer treatment; and also men who have or have had prostate cancer and are on testosterone-lowering medications.

"We know that exercise has benefits, such as improving bone health, maintaining weight, promoting strength and improving heart health. But we need to determine if cancer survivors can expect the same benefits from physical activity as those without cancer. These research studies will compare the effects of two different types of exercise on body composition, physical function, and quality of life in breast and prostate cancer survivors. It would be ideal to find the dose of exercise that is optimum, meaning that it is well-tolerated, safe and effective," said Winters-Stone, who also is an exercise physiologist and assistant professor of nursing, OHSU School of Nursing.

Linda Sizer, 58, a breast cancer survivor, had just taken her first strengthening class. She had been meaning to get into a regular exercise program.

"I know it's important to exercise to boost your immune system. This was the push I needed. It's really fun and I think it will be a great opportunity to meet other women who have been down the same path. I know I'll keep at it. It's a great group," said Sizer, who lives in southwest Portland and is an Alaska Airlines flight attendant.

The long-term goal of the research is to improve long-term health and function in cancer survivors, which is important considering the number of breast and prostate cancer cases each year in Oregon.
 
In 2006, 540 women died from breast cancer in Oregon and 2,810 were diagnosed with it. Oregon is No. two in the nation for breast cancer incidence, Washington is No. one. Last year 350 men died from prostate cancer and 3,000 were diagnosed with this cancer.

The studies have more than 90 men and women from the Portland metropolitan area and Vancouver, Wash., enrolled at this time, with a goal of 270 across the three studies. The exercise sessions for each participant involves a specially designed class involving strengthening or stretching exercises held at the new march wellness in the OHSU Center for Health & Healing on the South Waterfront.

Robert Bailey, 73, of northeast Portland, diagnosed with prostate cancer 10 years ago, is a participant of the study. He said he had not been a regular exerciser.

"I used to think about exercising regularly. But now with this class I can already see the difference in my body. It's fun and I'm going to keep going," he said.

"We also hope to keep changing the clinical mindset so that exercise is a part of the long-term cancer treatment program. We hope to continue to build evidence that there are benefits, to start to develop evidence-based programs that are safe and effective, and get these programs out into the community for cancer survivors," Winters-Stone said.

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation is funding the cancer survivor study of women 50 and older at diagnosis: $249,700 for two years. The American Cancer Society is funding the study in breast cancer survivors with early menopause for $714,926 for three years. The Lance Armstrong Foundation is funding the prostate cancer survivor study for $245,296 for three years. The studies are still open for enrollment. For more information about enrolling, please call Jessica Dobek at 503 494-4427 or e-mail: exercise@ohsu.edu.