Exercising more after being diagnosed with breast cancer could lower your risk of dying, a study suggests.
Women who bumped up their activity to 150 minutes per week, the recommended amount, halved their risk of death.
Those who continued to meet the guidelines for moderate exercise, which includes cycling or brisk walks, had a 30 per cent lower risk.
Doctors are now urging patients keep active post-diagnosis, in order to give them the best chance of surviving the killer disease.
Scientists at the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg tracked more than 2,000 older women for a decade.
The study is understood to be one of the first to investigate if exercise is beneficial for breast cancer patients.
Exercising more after being diagnosed with breast cancer could lower your risk of dying, a study in Germany suggests (stock)
It is well known that the fitter women are, the less likely they are to die if they get cancer.
But less research has been done on the effects of getting physically fitter after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
The new findings, published in the journal Breast Cancer Research, bolster the evidence.
Participants were aged 50 to 74. By the end of the study, there were 206 deaths, of which 114 were caused by breast cancer.
Results suggested women who increased their activity level after a diagnosis – rather than keeping it the same – cut their risk of death the most.
And women who didn’t exercise before or after their diagnosis did not see their risk of death reduced, the team revealed.
Compared to them, women who started exercising after their diagnosis reduced their risk of dying from breast cancer by 46 per cent.
Women who were active pre- and post-diagnosis cut their odds of dying from breast cancer by 39 per cent.
SHOULD CANCER PATIENTS DO EXERCISE?
Early evidence suggest an exercise programme before treatment helps patients tolerate difficult treatments and experience fewer complications.
There is stronger evidence demonstrating that exercising while undergoing cancer treatment limits the dreaded side effects such as fatigue.
Studies indicates that after completion of treatment, undertaking an exercise programme leads to increased cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, reduced fatigue, and improved body composition and wellbeing outcomes.
For patients under palliative care, preliminary evidence suggests that exercise is feasible, and may help maintain physical function, control fatigue, and improve bone health.
Regular physical activity after a cancer diagnosis has been linked with longer survival and lower risk of recurrence or disease progression.
Despite the majority of evidence being classed as preliminary due to factors such as small-sized studies, there is consensus among scientists that exercising before, during, and after cancer treatment is generally feasible, safe, and beneficial for most patients.
In October, an international panel of cancer experts set out a number of recommendations for the use of exercise after reviewing the scientific evidence.
Leaders of organisations such as the American Cancer Society and Macmillan Cancer Support said exercise plans for cancer patients can boost survival odds after a breast, colon or prostate cancer diagnosis.
Source: Macmillan Cancer Support
The study did not look at the effects of exercise on men – but the researchers said it is unlikely the benefits only apply to women.
Dr Audrey Jung, the corresponding author said: ‘The results of our study suggest that there are merits to leisure-time physical activity in breast cancer patients.
The results are only reflective of the patients in the study who ha already survived around six years after their diagnosis, the authors said.
They conclude women should be encouraged to exercise following a breast cancer diagnosis, especially if they aren’t sufficiently active already.
Their findings add momentum to a movement towards ‘prescribing’ cancer patients with exercise as part of the care.
Julia Frater, Cancer Research UK’s senior specialist cancer information nurse, said: ‘Exercise is safe for most cancer patients to take part in.
‘It can improve general health, mood and feelings of well being and there is emerging evidence that in some cases it might help improve overall survival.
‘But more research needs to be done on the types of exercises that are most helpful and the circumstances when it might make a difference to survival.
‘Any patients considering taking up vigorous exercise should speak to their doctor first just in case there is a reason why they should avoid some forms of exercise.’
Professor Anna Campbell, of Edinburgh Napier University, has been working in the area of exercise and cancer survivorship for 20 years.
She said there are a number of potential mechanisms that make exercise beneficial, including boosting the immune system.
She told MailOnline: ‘Exercise may be directly impacting on the tumour.
‘We think it may allow immune cells to infect the tumour’s environment, altering the development of bad cells.
‘Or, exercise switches off some of the tumour’s genes. We haven’t go definitive evidence yet.
‘It’s time to ensure that staying active post-cancer diagnosis is a standard part of a cancer care package.’