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Which Type of Exercise is Best for Older Breast Cancer Survivors?

Researchers are comparing the benefits of three different exercise programs

Exercise is good. But which type is most beneficial for breast cancer survivors older than 65? That is the question Oregon Health & Science University’s Kerri Winters-Stone, Ph.D., is trying to answer. Winters-Stone is conducting a study to compare the benefits of three different types of exercise on physical function and quality of life for breast cancer survivors older than 65.

As part of the study, one group of research participants takes part in three sessions of aerobic exercise each week and another group participates in three sessions of strength training exercises each week. The results for these two groups are then compared with a separate control group of participants who take part in stretching and relaxation exercises three times a week.

“At the beginning it was an effort to motivate myself to get here, but after a few weeks, it was exciting to come because I felt invigorated and could feel myself standing taller,” said study participant Marilyn Wilson about her experience.

Studies show that women who have been treated for breast cancer are at higher risk for declined physical function, which is a predictor of disability at a younger age and is in turn a predictor of earlier dependence and a need for long-term care. This progression is often referred to as the “disablement process,” explains Winters-Stone, an associate professor of nursing, OHSU School of Nursing, and member, OHSU Cancer Institute.

“We’re looking to see if exercise can offset the risk of decreased physical function after breast cancer treatment and to see if one type of exercise is better than another. We expect these results to give credibility to the fact that exercise can and should be done by women who have had breast cancer,” said Winters-Stone.

According to National Institutes of Health statistics, in 2004 there were 10.8 million cancer survivors living in the United States and about 60 percent were older than 65.

“With an aging population and higher numbers of cancer survivors, people who have faced cancer are going to be looking for ways to maintain their quality of life; they are going to demand it,” added Winters-Stone.

Researchers are recruiting the next group of participants for this study. Women who wish to participate in the study must be 65 or older, have completed radiation or chemotherapy for breast cancer more than one year ago and not currently in engaged in vigorous exercise. The women exercise in supervised classes for an hour three times a week for one year and transition to a home-based program for another six months. The at-home portion of the study is done to test the sustainability of the program when the participants don’t have access to an organized class.

This study is funded by the National Institutes of Health. For more information about the study, contact Britta Torgrimson at 503 494-2635 or visit

About the OHSU Cancer Institute

The OHSU Cancer Institute is the only National Cancer Institute-designated center between Sacramento and Seattle. It comprises some 200 clinical researchers, basic scientists and population scientists who work together to translate scientific discoveries into longer and better lives for Oregon's cancer patients. In the lab, basic scientists examine cancer cells and normal cells to uncover molecular abnormalities that cause the disease. This basic science informs more than 300 clinical trials conducted at the OHSU Cancer Institute.

About OHSU

Oregon Health & Science University is the state’s only health and research university, and Oregon’s only academic health center. OHSU is Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), with 12,400 employees. OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves patients from every corner of the state, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,400 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to every county in the state.

As a leader in research, OHSU earned $307 million in research funding in fiscal year 2007. OHSU serves as a catalyst for the region's bioscience industry and is an incubator of discovery, averaging one new breakthrough or innovation every three days, with more than 4,100 research projects currently under way. OHSU disclosed 132 inventions in 2007 alone, and OHSU research resulted in 33 new spinoff companies since 2000, most of which are based in Oregon.

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