The benefits of sport for women with breast cancer

Two months ago, María, aged 45, was diagnosed with breast cancer, a disease that, in all its manifestations, will affect almost 278,000 people in Spain this year.

But what exactly is cancer?

It can be understood as the damage caused in the cell, specifically in the RNA. This deterioration causes many of the cellular functions to be affected. Among them, programmed cell death or apoptosis.

When apoptosis stops working, the cell keeps dividing indefinitely. The result is an unwanted accumulation of tissue: a tumor. For its part, the tumor will affect the tissue where it develops, causing problems in nerves and soft structures and preventing their normal functioning.

If it communicates through the blood, it will trigger other tumors in different parts of the body. This is what is called metastasis.

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How can we treat cancer?

To fight cancer, we have different treatments that are more or less experimental and, unfortunately, more or less effective.

Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or the most recent gene therapies, among others, are the weapons available to combat this disease.

When approaching these therapies we can add the positive effect that certain attitudes, habits and lifestyles have on survival and the quality of life of patients.

Returning to the case of María, shortly after being diagnosed in stage II of the disease, she came into contact with the AMIGA Murcia association.

AMIGA offers support in the fight against cancer through a multidisciplinary team. This includes emotional support, provided by specialized psychologists or the wig bank program, which is so necessary to improve image and self-concept. Also different awareness and prevention workshops.

In addition, there is the often altruistic collaboration of specialists who provide the latest news and the best support to women who bravely face this disease. Finally, for a few years, AMIGA and the University of Murcia (UMU) have offered the Active Woman Program.

Active Woman Program

When Maria attended her first session at the UMU Sports Medicine Center, she debated whether in her condition physical rest or the sports program recommended by the association was better for her.

Over time you will see for yourself that your body responds satisfactorily to a physical exercise adjusted to its possibilities and that, little by little, it will be able to do more. As their strength and endurance improve, so will their autonomy and with it, their deteriorating self-esteem.

The Active Woman program seeks to improve the quality of life and survival prospects of breast cancer patients, increasing it between 20 and 40% through regular physical exercise.

According to the evidence, we know that exercise decreases oncogenes (those that, due to their great capacity for mutation or transformation, induce the formation of cancer in a cell) and reduce circulating hormones. In addition, it induces the activation of antioxidant defense pathways and helps combat metabolic conditions such as adiposity, chronic inflammation, and insulin resistance. All of them factors that have been related to various types of cancer.

During exercise, muscle fibers release myokines. These induce benefits such as increased sensitivity to insulin or antiproliferative effects, which can induce apoptosis in the cells of some tumors. In fact, one particular myokine, interleukin 6, has shown antitumor effects.

Anamnesis and dosage of loads

Before starting, Maria must fill out a survey. The form includes questions about psychological aspects, such as mood; related to cancer diagnosis and medication; to discomfort and comorbidities, as well as to their daily physical exercise habits.

Once all these questions have been answered, on her first visit to the Assessment Unit we will measure Maria's height, her waist and hip circumference (which are related to the risk of diabetes, among other pathologies), total mass, and body mass index. (BMI) and its percentages of bone mass, lean, fat, water and visceral fat, which we will obtain through electrical bioimpedance.

You will also perform some exercises that allow us to assess your neuromuscular function or the ability of your major muscles to generate force per unit of time.

On a second visit, Maria will perform the CAMICO test (walking and running) to find out her aerobic capacity.

Thanks to this data, you will receive a totally personalized training. With time and perseverance, this will increase your strength, endurance and improve your body composition. It will provide you with all the benefits associated with physical activity. Of course, without the risk of injury that arises when it is not planned and supervised by professionals.

From the Active Woman program we remind people like María that they are not alone. That they have at their disposal a multidisciplinary team that strives every day to improve their quality of life and help in their healing process.

The investigation continues. More and more people are surviving, but the most important thing is always their attitude.


The student Alejandro Escobar Hincapié has collaborated in the preparation of this article.


Carlos Pérez Caballero, Head of the Sports Activities Service, University of Murcia and Andrés Valverde Conesa, Higher Facultative Technician in Physical Education, University of Murcia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.