Breast Cancer, Pregnancy, and Your Exercise Routine

Beth Brophy Health Guide
  • Pregnancy. Breast cancer is diagnosed every year in about 3,000 pregnant American women. Until very recently, pregnant women who were diagnosed with breast cancer were dealt a double whammy: they had cancer, plus they couldn’t have treatment without harming their unborn babies and thus must make an excruciating choice. Now, thanks to a small clinical trial done at M.D.Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and reported on by the New York Times, there is another way to handle the situation. Women with invasive breast cancer can have surgery and chemotherapy during pregnancy and deliver healthy babies. However, chemotherapy is postponed until after the first trimester and radiation is not done until after the birth.
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    Some caveats: The trial is small, looking only at the outcomes of 57 women and 57 live births. And the treatment is controversial because of ethical concerns: Should pregnant women use chemotherapy? What long-term effect will the treatment have on the baby? And what if the mother dies? Despite these concerns, the trial holds out some hope in a situation where there used to be none at all.

    Hitting the gym. I have mixed feelings about the recent report in the U.S. News and World Report on breast cancer and exercise. While the article admits that there’s not much solid evidence proving that exercise can prevent a recurrence, exercise can help patients manage side effects of treatment. For example, weight lifting is no longer thought to make lymphedema, the painful swelling that some breast cancer patients experience, worse. In fact, weight lifting is safe. And it can boost physical and emotional well-being. And a home program of walking and resistance training can help with fatigue for breast and prostrate cancer patients.

    Here’s my caveat to patients now undergoing treatment. Let me also state my bias: I exercise four or five times a week, not because I like to but because I think it makes me healthier, it helps me sleep, and I feel guilty if I don’t do it. So, if you feel like exercising and it brings you some physical or mental relief, great. But it’s hard enough to endure treatment without beating yourself up that you’re not exercising enough. So give yourself a break, if you want one.

    Were you able to exercise during treatment? Did it help you? Tell us in the message boards.
Published On: June 30, 2006