Judging from a recent Wall Street Journal article by Lucette Lagnado, entitled, “Sloan Kettering’s Quest to Prove Exercise Can Inhibit Cancer: Trying ‘exercise oncology’ to stop or delay the spread of a malignant tumor; a trial for women with stage 4 breast cancer,” it is clear that exercise is being taken more seriously as a way of preventing, recovering from and treating cancer. According to the article, “The new research at Sloan Kettering includes randomized, controlled studies—considered the gold standard for scientific inquiry—seeking to prove that exercise can alter the biology of a tumor, thereby inhibiting or slowing its growth, says Dr. Lee Jones, who is leading the Sloan Kettering effort.”
Moving For Life is thrilled by MSKCC interest in this research as it will undoubtedly build upon the growing body of scientific knowledge to and from which we have been so privileged to contribute and learn since our inception. In the following blog entry, Moving For Life’s, Dr. Martha Eddy sheds light on how Dr. Lee Jones’ research dovetails with our own work and findings, and identifies the gaps that still exist in our knowledge.
I salute Dr. Lee Jones of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in his excellence of research design and his pursuit of a greater understanding of how exercise affects people going through treatment. When we began Moving For Life in 1999 (formerly called Moving On Aerobics in order to emphasize the importance of aerobic- and cardio-stimulating activity – such as fast walking, non-impact aerobics, dance, biking and swimming – in “moving on” from cancer), Dr. Alison Rosen and I located 4 controlled studies, mostly from Europe, that stated that recovery rates improved when survivors were actively engaged in aerobic exercise. As Dr. Jones reports, no one was doing viable studies about whether exercise could be a positive intervention during cancer treatment.
Over the next ten years, worldwide research organizations, including major health institutions in the USA, completed studies with survivors, which yielded the following findings:
1) Exercise improves quality of life in survivors
2) Exercise speeds up recovery
3) Exercise can prolong length of life
4) Exercise reduces the chance of recurrence
Replication studies have validated many of these findings; but the whys of each of the above are still being discovered and just what is perfect for people during treatment needs more randomized controlled research.
Driven by even the small amount of data available and her own experience in going through treatment, Dr. Alison Rosen motivated Jan Albert and myself to design a GENTLE exercise program that could contribute to survivors’ improvements. We focused first on women dealing with the side-effects of breast cancer treatment. In creating the program I followed the traditional intervention guidelines that women should only begin exercising six weeks after surgery and with physician clearances.
Right away we partnered with SHARE Cancer support and Gilda’s Club. Since these support centers offer programming to diverse people with different types of cancer, we saw the anecdotal positive effects of our program with women with various types of reproductive cancers (breast, uterine, cervical, ovarian) and men and women with brain, colon, lung, pancreatic, appendicular, metastatic cancers among others. While mostly post-surgery – a few people came to prep for surgery – many were active in their chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Many still are.
Here’s what we hear:
“Moving For Life makes me feel better about myself.”
“I am no longer just identified with my cancer.”
“Even if I feel exhausted, I am surprised that I feel better once I’ve finished class.”
”When I take class regularly I have more energy for the rest of my life – housework and work.”
We could go on and on….
Related to in-treatment research, Dr. Freya Schnabel, Head of Breast Surgery at NYU Medical Center, observed that of her patients, the ones attending these classes were feeling better. Apace with the findings that aerobic exercise was also reducing rates of breast cancer recurrence, Dr. Schnabel initiated her own pilot research. Moving For Life was invited to be the central intervention (together with two nutrition classes) with NYU Langone Medical Center’s Breast Program to see what impact twice-a-week Moving For Life classes could have on BodyMass Index (BMI) in an eight-week period (Click here to see the NYU research poster). We found that women were motivated to exercise and that a majority of the women lost a pound per week (6 – 13 lbs in 8 weeks of training). Because of Hurricane Sandy, the study stretched out over 10 weeks.
Longitudinal data is still being collected by NYU Langone as to determine whether women continue to exercise once the study ended. The post-6-month study revealed that losing the support of the group had negative impact. NYU then instituted a Sunday morning class, but it wasn’t well attended either. Barriers to exercise post-treatment will hopefully continue to be revealed through this research and that of other labs like Dr. Jones’.
As a side note we also found that there was lots of research showing that music is an anti-depressant. Since depression is another common side-effect to having a life-threatening illness, we decided it was important that I design a program with music. Jan Albert, an award-winning video and TV producer and former DJ stepped up and helped us select winning music.
By Dr. Martha Eddy | April 2016