Exercise Study Could Benefit Older Breast Cancer Survivors

01/14/08  Portland, Ore

Liz Pfeifer said she felt tremendously overwhelmed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Having breast cancer made her feel like she was losing her identity and her ability to cope. But then, as she progressed through treatment and gathered informati

Liz Pfeifer said she felt tremendously overwhelmed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Having breast cancer made her feel like she was losing her identity and her ability to cope. But then, as she progressed through treatment and gathered information she realized she had some power over her disease.

One of the ways she has exerted that power is by joining an Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute study examining different forms of exercise for women older than 65 who have had breast cancer.

“Because this is a research project, I hope that it will be a way to give back to others and that it will help me get myself back in gear physically, mentally and socially,” said Pfeifer, 68, a southeast Portland resident.

The study, which is still looking to enroll participants, will evaluate the beneficial effects of aerobic exercise and resistance training for breast cancer survivors who are at least two years post-treatment with chemotherapy or radiation, explained Kerri Winters-Stone, Ph.D., the principal investigator, OHSU Cancer Institute member and associate professor, OHSU School of Nursing.  

Pfeifer was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, had surgery in 2002 and has been cancer-free ever since. She said she never really been successful in other types of organized exercise programs, but this new exercise class, that is really a research study, is different, she said.

“I will not only be improving myself, but I will also be providing a basis for helping others who may be diagnosed with cancer in the future. I feel so much more empowered by participating in this study.”

The women in the study class will be placed in three supervised groups: aerobic exercise; strengthening exercise and a control group that will do stretching exercises. The classes will be held at the OHSU School of Nursing, Marquam Hill Campus.
  
“Our aim is to improve physical functioning, and we may also change the women’s body composition, which can reduce their risk for other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension,” Winters-Stone said.
 
Besides the benefits of added activity, Winters-Stone said she has seen another benefit to women in similar studies.

“The serendipitous outcome is the social benefits the women will experience because of their shared experience – having had breast cancer. This will be a welcoming and safe environment for women to exercise. They can shed the emotional weight of having had breast cancer because everybody in the room has gone through it. It will be a freeing environment, where it’s OK to be vulnerable as far as their exercise challenges. It can be a real support group for women,” she said.

After recruiting the needed 141 women, the supervised study program will last one year and then women are expected to transition from the structured environment of supervised classes to a home-based version of their program to assess the sustainability of exercise in a more realistic setting. The study is funded by the National Cancer Institute.  For more information about participating in the study call 503 494-2635.