A unique breast cancer exercise study at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) aims to pinpoint what factors can lead survivors to begin and sustain an exercise program that will ultimately lead to positive lifestyle change.
Fifteen years ago, there was so little known about cancer that many oncologists focused almost exclusively on getting their patients through grueling treatments.
That is not the case any longer. Many treatments have become targeted and highly specialized, and patients — including those with breast cancer – are living longer. Because of this, there is a major focus on improving the quality of life after treatment, according to Laura Rogers, M.D., professor in the UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences and principal investigator of the study.
“We’re trying to give breast cancer survivors the tools they need to start an exercise program, and we want to determine what pathways lead them to continue exercising long after their treatment has ended,” Rogers said. “We want to know what kind of support they need.”
The Better Exercise Adherence after Treatment for Cancer (BEAT Cancer) study is funded by a $3.5-million federal grant from the National Cancer Institute. Researchers are currently enrolling women who have had a breast cancer diagnosis, are finished with treatment and are not engaged in a regular exercise program.
Rogers said the study would attempt to determine if patients need one-on-one engagement, or if perhaps a support group atmosphere would be more effective. Investigators will look at different aspects of the intervention in an effort to determine the best combination.
During the program’s first six weeks, enrollees will receive coaching from an exercise specialist and learn how to use a heart-rate monitor. Volunteers will be responsible for maintaining their own exercise regimen at home in the last weeks of the program, but an exercise specialist will be available for support.
Study participants will have follow-up visits at three, six and 12 months for physical assessments. Participants will be compensated $50 for their initial assessment and after each of their three other evaluations. The women who are not assigned to receive the program will receive three free exercise sessions with a cancer exercise trainer at the end of the study.
Rogers hopes the study will lead to the creation of educational training materials that can be taken to cancer centers around the country to train staff on how to incorporate these interventions with their patients.