MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Being overweight or obese and inactive are risk factors for breast cancer and for recurrence of the disease. For patients with hard-to-treat triple-negative breast cancer, it’s especially important to maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly.

Triple-negative breast cancer is a subtype of breast cancer that lacks the three receptors known to cause most breast cancers: estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). Because of this triple-negative tumors do not respond to receptor-targeted treatments. They do, however, respond to chemotherapy. This type of cancer can be aggressive and is more likely to recur than other types of breast cancer.

West Virginia University researchers will begin a study this fall aimed at helping prevent the chance of cancer recurrence in triple-negative breast cancer survivors dealing with weight issues. “Effect of a 12-week multidisciplinary weight loss program (‘Fit for the Fight’) on BMI, functional capacity, quality of life and markers of inflammation in overweight and obese women with triple-negative breast cancer,” is a collaborative study of the WVU Department of Physical Therapy, the Department of Exercise Physiology and the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center.

“I named the program in this study ‘Fit for the Fight’ because it will teach women how they can control their weight through diet and exercise and fight cancer that way,” principal researcher Anne Swisher, P.T., Ph.D., said.  “My hope is that what they learn becomes a lifelong habit.”

Swisher modeled her program after the weight management program established by the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA). That program has been employed at the WVU Exercise Physiology Human Performance Lab for several years and has been successful in helping people make exercise part of their lifestyle.

The study participants recruited to the Fit for the Fight program will meet with exercise physiologists at the Human Performance Lab. “Our staff will provide individualized instruction on physical activity and will guide participants each step of the way through their exercise program to make them comfortable in the exercise setting,” Diana Gilleland, lab manager, said.   Participants will be asked to exercise three times a week at the lab and twice at home.

They’ll also meet with a Cancer Center dietician Mary Anne Yanosik for nutritional counseling and will receive behavioral counseling to help them achieve the goal of losing 10 percent of their body weight.

“I believe patients will be receptive to Fit for the Fight because it is a structured program that offers them professional support along with advice on how to live healthier lifestyles,” Sobha Kurian, M.D., a breast cancer physician at the Cancer Center, said. “Two large, population-based studies of breast cancer survivors have shown that moderate physical activities following breast cancer diagnosis decreases the risk of cancer recurrence by about 50 percent.  I advise my patients to do 30 to 40 minutes of exercise, such as brisk walking, at least five times a week.”

The study participants will also have their blood drawn at the beginning and end of the program. “We will be analyzing their blood both times to look for changes in inflammatory markers as a result of weight loss and increased physical activity,” Cancer Center scientist Linda Vona-Davis, Ph.D., co-investigator, said. “We hope that these interventions will give us some clues about the specific effects of diet and exercise on inflammation in breast cancer survivors.”

Swisher plans to do a one-year follow-up study to see how well participants have adhered to Fit for the Fight. “I’d also like to expand the program to hospitals, fitness centers and physical therapy clinics statewide, and, ultimately, teach dieticians and exercise professionals how to run it in their communities.”

“There’s a lot of cancer research on survivorship,” Swisher added. “I am very interested in this area and want to make survivorship the best it can be for those diagnosed with this disease.”

Swisher’s research is supported by a $25,000 Collaborative Programmatic Development Grant from the WVU Breast Cancer Research Program and a $5,000 grant from the Oncology Section of the American Physical Therapy Association.

For more information: Angela Jones, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
ss: 06-30-11