Health Team

Duke study finds exercise helps with treating breast cancer

Posted April 2, 2015 5:26 p.m. EDT

— After a double mastectomy, intensive chemotherapy and radiation to treat breast cancer in 2012, doctors advised Kerry Holbrook to exercise as much as possible.

“I kept it up and it made me feel better and it definitely improved my mood,” the 51-year-old said.

A Duke University study recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute used mice to find that exercise doubles blood flow and oxygen to tumors, which Dr. Mark Dewhirst, a Duke cancer researcher, says is a good thing.

Blood vessel growth in tumors is immature and jumbled, which limits oxygen and shields the tumor from treatments, Dewhirst said. Exercises encourages more mature vessel growth and increases oxygen, he said.

“It sounds counterintuitive, like why would you want to increase blood vessel growth and oxygen delivery, but it makes the treatments that we give such as chemotherapy and radiation more effective,” Dewhirst said.

Exercise is as effective as chemotherapy drugs, but when combined, both are most effective, said Dewhirst, who recommends 75 minutes of intense exercise and 150 minutes of less intensive exercise per week.

Preventing a cancer reoccurrence has motived Holbrook to exercise regularly.

“The more you exercise you exercise, the less chance of recurrence that you have, and the more weight you lose, the less chance of recurrence you have,” she said.

Duke is now moving forward with human studies on exercise and breast cancer tumors.