Increase in Physical Activity After Radiation Therapy May Improve Fatigue, Shortness of Breath in Cancer Patients

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Radiation doses to the heart that occur during radiation therapy treatments for lung cancer, breast cancer and lymphoma may increase fatigue and cause difficulty breathing in cancer patients, according to research presented Feb. 14 at ACC's Advancing the Cardiovascular Care of the Oncology Patient course in Washington, DC. However, engaging in more physical activity prior to treatment may improve these symptoms.

Sheela Krishnan, MD, et al., examined 130 patients with either breast cancer, lung cancer or mediastinal lymphoma who were treated with radiation to the chest, and assessed thoracic radiation therapy as it impacted quality of life. The researchers collected data before radiation therapy was administered, immediately after the patient had received therapy, and five to nine months after the completion of radiation therapy.

Results showed that lung cancer and lymphoma participants reported an increase in fatigue and dyspnea immediately post-radiation therapy, which later improved. Breast cancer participants, on the other hand, reported significant increases in physical activity and decrease in fatigue over time. In this group, results showed a nonsignificant trend toward increased fatigue with increasing radiation dose.

The authors note that when a patient is treated with thoracic radiation therapy, it can have a negative impact on their quality of life early on. However, engaging in higher levels of physical activity before treatment was found to improve some of these symptoms over time.

Furthermore, the authors discovered that for all participants, accounting for the differences in chemotherapy and radiation dose they received, increases in physical activity over time were significantly associated with concurrent improvements in fatigue and shortness of breath.

"While our study is a small study, it suggests that high levels of physical activity prior to initiation of radiation therapy for cancer are associated with better physical functioning and quality of life with cancer treatment," Krishnan said. "Additional work is still needed to understand the types and timing of exercises that can bring about the greatest benefit."

ACC's Advancing the Cardiovascular Care of the Oncology Patient conference, which convenes Feb. 14 – 16 in Washington, DC, brings together top experts in both cardiology and oncology to equip clinicians and researchers with the tools needed to improve cancer patient care and treat their unique heart health needs.

Other abstracts being presented at the meeting include:

  • Assessment of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factor Control in Cancer Patients
  • Radiation-Induced CAD: Gender Disparities For Patients with Hodgkin's Lymphoma Following Radiation
  • Left Behind: The Cardio-Oncology Knowledge Gap Among Primary Care Providers

See the full list under "Accepted Abstracts and Posters."

Stay up-to-date throughout the course via social media by using the hashtag #ACCCardioOnc and tagging @ACCinTouch. Also look out for activity on social media from ACC grassroots advocates and ACC's Advocacy team who will be on Capitol Hill today for the Second Annual Cardio-Oncology Section Hill Day. Participants will meet with 10 members of congress from key health committees and the Doctor's Caucus for high-level discussions around prior authorization reform, increasing Medicare-funded graduate medical education slots and robust funding for the National Institutes of Health.

Clinical Topics: Diabetes and Cardiometabolic Disease, Heart Failure and Cardiomyopathies, Prevention, Exercise

Keywords: Quality of Life, Breast Neoplasms, Lymphoma, Fatigue, Exercise, Dyspnea, Lung Neoplasms, Radiation Dosage

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