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New Study Looks at Whether Spouses of Cancer Survivors Also Benefit From Exercise

Researchers in the Oregon Health & Science University Knight Cancer Institute are studying not only whether men with prostate cancer see the benefits of exercise (which could reduce side effects from their cancer treatment), but also whether spouses who exercise with their husbands or partners also benefit from the couple exercising together.

The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, is the first of its kind to have cancer patients and their spouse or partner work together to become more physically active. The study addresses the National Cancer Institute’s 2008 strategic goals to invest in intervention research on long-term health in cancer survivors and their families.

“Previous exercise interventions aimed at cancer survivors have only targeted the patient and have neglected to include the spouse, who could also benefit from physical activity,” said Kerri Winters-Stone, Ph.D., F.A.C.S.M., principal investigator and an associate professor in the OHSU School of Nursing.  “We think that exercise can be more beneficial to the health of couples if they exercise together. To our knowledge, this is the first study that fosters teamwork between the cancer patient and spouse by having them exercise as training partners. By training as a team, we expect that not only will each person become stronger, but the team will, too.”

Previous research has shown regular physical activity can help cancer patients find relief from treatment-related side effects, and it can help their partner find relief from the stress and strain of assisting a loved one with a chronic illness. However, no group has studied whether exercise is more effective when done as a team (causing people to be more compliant to an exercise program), and no one has investigated whether the training “team” becomes more healthy as a couple as a result of exercising together. The study will help determine the effect of partnered strength training on physical and emotional health in spouses.

The study, which begins in July, will involve 60 men who have prostate cancer and their spouses/partners. To qualify for the study, prostate cancer patients must be 60 or older and not actively undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Patients on hormone therapy for prostate cancer are welcome. Partners are not required to be married, but they must be living together; same-sex couples are welcome. No minimum level of fitness is required; however, men or women who currently engage in regular, moderate-to-vigorous strength training are NOT eligible. There is no charge to participate in the study; all exercise will take place on the OHSU School of Nursing Exercise Research Studio.

After baseline testing, which involves muscle and fat mass evaluation, a basic physical performance assessment, and filling out some questionnaires, couples will be randomly assigned to either a strength-training exercise program or a usual-care condition group. Participants in the strength-training group will be asked to attend two 1-hour strength-training exercise classes per week, and participants in the usual care group will continue with their usual physical activity routine. All participants will be evaluated at the start of the study, at three months and then again at six months.

“I am very appreciative of what is being done for me and my wife,” says Ed Ritt, who’s been participating in one of the study groups since March. “The study is good in that it’s picked me up and got me going. The key is exercising. No matter how you get to it, you’ve got to do it.”

Couples interested in the study should call the study’s project director, Jessica Dobek, M.S., at 503 494-4427.

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About the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute
With the latest treatments, technologies, hundreds of research studies and approximately 400 clinical trials, the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center between Sacramento and Seattle— an honor earned only by the nation's top cancer centers. The honor is shared among the more than 650 doctors, nurses, scientists and staff who work together at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute to reduce the impact of cancer.

About OHSU
The 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). OHSU’s size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. OHSU 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.

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