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Active Voice: Exercise and Breast Cancer Survival

from By Kerry S. Courneya, Ph.D.

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

Kerry S. Courneya, Ph.D., is a professor and Canada research chair in physical activity and cancer at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. His research program focuses on physical activity and cancer survivorship including how exercise may help cancer survivors cope with treatments, recover after treatments and extend long-term survival.

This commentary presents Dr. Courneya’s views on the topic of a research article which he and his colleagues published in the September 2014 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise® (MSSE).

Exercise has many positive outcomes for cancer patients and survivors including improvements in health-related fitness, symptom management and quality of life. Nevertheless, perhaps the most compelling question for cancer patients and oncologists is whether exercise can improve cancer outcomes. A growing number of observational studies have suggested that physical activity after a breast cancer diagnosis is associated with a lower risk of breast cancer- specific and all-cause mortality. Of course, there are many explanations for why physically active breast cancer survivors may live longer than inactive breast cancer survivors—and these explanations may be unrelated to the causal effects of exercise. Phase III randomized controlled trials would provide a definitive answer to this question, but there are methodological and logistical challenges in conducting such studies.

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