New research suggests that breast cancer survivors of an older age should follow ongoing exercise programs involving resistance and impact training to build and maintain muscle strength and bone density. This is according to a follow-up study published in The Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

According to the American Cancer Society, there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the US alone. The majority of these women are over the age of 50.

But the team of researchers, led by Jessica Dobek of the Oregon Health and Science University, say it can be challenging for older breast cancer survivors to maintain a healthy body composition after suffering the effects of cancer, treatment for the disease and reduced physical activity.

The investigators explain that treatment for cancer is linked to loss of bone density, a reduction in lean body mass and weight gain.

This means older breast cancer survivors are at higher risk of developing diseases related to obesity, frailty and fractures, and breast cancer recurrence.

Previous study showed benefits of exercise

The researchers previously conducted a study on 106 early stage postmenopausal breast cancer survivors over the age of 50.

The women were randomly assigned to a supervised 1-year resistance and impact program, or a stretching placebo program.

Results of the study revealed that the women who carried out the resistance and impact program had increased muscle strength and reduced loss of bone density, compared with the women in the placebo program.

The investigators wanted to see whether these benefits could be achieved long-term. For their follow-up study, the researchers completed assessments 1 year later on 44 women who were a part of the original study.

The researchers measured their muscle mass, fat mass, upper and lower body strength and the bone mineral density of the hip and spine.

Some ongoing benefits after exercise stopped

Share on Pinterest
New research suggests older breast cancer survivors who took part in an exercise program showed improved spine bone mineral density.

Some of the women in the follow-up study had continued with lower-level exercise, while others had stopped exercise since the previous study.

All women continued to show improvements in their spine bone mineral density, suggesting that this can be preserved even after regular exercise has ceased, the researchers say.

However, the women's muscle strength declined faster than bone density, indicating that muscle strength must be maintained through continued exercise programs.

"Exercise programs aimed at improving musculoskeletal health should be considered in the long-term care plan for breast cancer survivors," says Dobek, adding:

"Though further work is needed, our results may provide a beginning knowledge about the type, volume and length of exercise training needed to preserve bone health among long-term cancer survivors at risk of fracture."

The researchers say their study is the first to report the long-term effects of supervised exercise programs that have been previously carried out by breast cancer survivors.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that 3D mammography significantly increases breast cancer detection and leads to fewer patient recalls.