SPRINGFIELD – Can a breast-cancer survivor reduce her chances of the disease recurring if she starts exercising after finishing her treatments?
That's what Dr. Laura Rogers, a physician at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, hopes to learn in a study that will also address whether adding exercise after breast cancer treatment can improve quality of life and reduce sleeplessness and fatigue.
Rogers received a $3.58 million grant through the National Institutes of Health for the five-year study. One of her co-investigators will be Edward McAuley, a University of Illinois kinesiology professor.
Rogers said she hopes to enroll 256 women in the study.
McAuley said he will recruit half the participants from Champaign County and surrounding communities. Recruitment will start early next year.
The study will offer a three-month supervised exercise program that primarily involves walking, Rogers said. Women recruited will need to be finished with their primary treatment, though some who are undergoing long-term therapies may be eligible.
"We will be enrolling people who are not regularly active," Rogers said. "We want people who are not exercising regularly, though most know they should be."
Breast-cancer patients don't only experience changes in their quality of life during their treatment period. Survivors may have long-term effects such as fatigue and trouble sleeping, and while exercise alone won't necessarily cause those problems to go away, Rogers said, it can help.
In follow-ups with participants, she'll be looking for an improvement in each woman's waist-to-hip ratio, a measurement of fat distribution calculated by using waist and hip measurements.
Higher ratios have been associated with a risk of cancer recurrence and mortality, and people carrying more weight in their mid-sections are also at risk for other obesity-related diseases such as coronary heart disease and diabetes.
Rogers said her study won't address cancer recurrence and mortality because that would require more participants and a longer time frame, but if participants can maintain an improvement in their waist-to-hip ratios the study can show a reduced marker for that particular cancer risk.
And that may help breast cancer patients fill what Rogers sees as a gap in their health coverage:
The problem medical providers have incorporating fitness programs like this into treatment programs is there's typically no insurance reimbursement for it.
"My hope is that studies just like this, if this study is successful, would help convince insurance companies or whoever is paying for care, that this program and other programs like it are valuable and important to provide for their members," she added.
Half of the women in the study will receive the exercise program and half won't, though women in the control group will receive some form of intervention, McAuley said.
The exercise program will be designed to take women from a supervised program to an independent one they can pursue at home and shift their exercise habits from doing nothing or little to doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, Rogers said.