February 5, 2009

Improving Quality of Life After Breast Cancer Treatment

Thanks to improvements in cancer screening and treatment, cancer survivors are living longer than ever before. Of the estimated 10 million cancer survivors in the U.S., roughly two million are survivors of breast cancer.[1] In order to better meet the needs of cancer survivors, an increasing amount of research is focusing on the long-term effects of cancer on health and quality of life.

Two areas of survivorship that have been addressed by recent studies include the beneficial effects of aerobic exercise and the management of hot flashes.

To address the effects of aerobic exercise on quality of life, researchers in the U.K. conducted a study among 108 women who were one to three years beyond the end of breast cancer treatment.[2] Prior to the study, none of the women engaged in regular physical activity.

Study participants were assigned to one of the three groups: 1) supervised aerobic exercise therapy (moderate-intensity exercise lasting for 50 minutes, three times per week); 2) exercise placebo (light-intensity body conditioning and stretching lasting for 50 minutes, three times per week); or 3) usual care (no exercise intervention).

Compared to the women in the usual care group, women in the aerobic exercise group reported significantly better quality of life. Psychological health outcomes were modestly improved in women in the two intervention groups (aerobic exercise and exercise-placebo) compared to women in the usual care group.

The researchers conclude, “Exercise therapy had large, clinically meaningful, short-term beneficial effects on [quality of life] in women treated for breast cancer.” Women who are considering an exercise program are encouraged to talk with their physician about the safest and most effective approach.

In a second study, researchers from Germany conducted a clinical trial to compare two approaches to the management of hot flashes in women with breast cancer.[3]

Hot flashes are common in breast cancer survivors, and may occur as a result of natural menopause or cancer treatment. Given concerns about the safety of postmenopausal hormone therapy, there is a need for alternative approaches to treating hot flashes in women with breast cancer.

The current study involved 64 women with breast cancer who suffered from hot flashes at least twice daily. Women were treated with either Effexor® (venlafaxine; an antidepressant medication) or Catapres® (clonidine; a high blood pressure medication that is sometimes used to treat hot flashes).

Hot flashes were reduced by nearly eight episodes per day in patients treated with Effexor and by nearly five episodes per day in patients treated with Catapres.

The researchers concluded that the antidepressant agent Effexor significantly reduces the frequency of hot flashes compared with Catapres among patients with breast cancer who suffer from at least two hot-flash episodes daily. However, the search continues for the optimal treatment of women who experience hot flashes as a side effect of breast cancer treatment. There now appear to be a growing number of drugs that are reasonably effective at reducing hot flashes among these patients.


[1] Rowland J, Mariotto A, Aziz N, Tesauro G, Feuer EJ, Blackman D, et al. Cancer survivorship—United States, 1971–2001. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2004;53:526–9.

[2] Daley AJ, Crank H, Saxton JM, Mutrie N, Coleman R, Roalfe A. Randomized trial of exercise therapy in women treated for breast cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2007;25:1713-1721.

[3] Loibl S, Schwedler K, von Minckwitz G, et al. Venlafaxine is superior to clonidine as treatment of hot flashes in breast cancer patients-a double-blind, randomized study. Annals of Oncology. 2007;18:689-693.

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Tags: Breast Cancer, Uncategorized