Physical Activity Reduces Cognitive Decline in Breast Cancer

Maurie Markman, MD


March 07, 2022

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Hello. I'm Dr Maurie Markman from Cancer Treatment Centers of America, and I would like to briefly discuss a very important topic that's commonly on the mind of both oncologists using chemotherapy as well as patients receiving chemotherapy: How can we avoid the recognized cognitive decline in individuals who are receiving chemotherapy?

There was a very provocative paper that recently appeared in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, titled, "Physical Activity Patterns and Relationships With Cognitive Function in Patients With Breast Cancer Before, During, and After Chemotherapy in a Prospective, Nationwide Study." It's a long title, but a very important question.

These investigators prospectively looked at 580 individuals who were being treated for breast cancer and 300 normal controls of the same age — median age was 53 years — and assessed cognitive function measured over time and their level of physical activity.

They found, as you would anticipate, a fall in cognitive activity in general in the population that started chemotherapy; I should emphasize that this information was all obtained with objective testing. There was a fall in cognitive function in the patients who received chemotherapy, and after time, that began to improve.

Very importantly, and the point of the article, was that the patients with breast cancer who started chemotherapy with a high level of physical activity had less of a decline. Also importantly, individuals who maintained their physical activity during chemotherapy did not experience the decline seen in others.

This is a very important observation. Clearly, we need additional work in this area. If encouraging physical activity in individuals receiving chemotherapy — in this case, for breast cancer — can decrease or maybe even eliminate the cognitive decline in those individuals, this would be a major advance in cancer treatment.

If you're interested in this topic, I would encourage you to review this paper and obviously, other studies that follow this, to examine the question of physical activity and cognitive function in individuals receiving chemotherapy. I thank you for your attention.

Maurie Markman, MD, is president of medicine and science at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia. He has more than 20 years of experience in cancer treatment and gynecologic oncology research.

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