Study: Breast Cancer Survivors Who Exercise Have Fewer Memory Problems

breast cancer
Disease Research

Northwestern Medicine in conjunction with University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign recently reported that women who had survived breast cancer and exercised regularly reported fewer memory problems than those who didn’t exercise. Memory problems are a common issue amongst breast cancer survivors, however it was found that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity could help curtail some of the cognition problems.

It was also found that memory problems may be associated with the high stress of coping with a cancer diagnosis and not from radiation or chemotherapy as previously thought. Exercise may provide a way for patients to effectively deal with some of the stress caused by their cancer experience, which may, in turn, decrease memory problems.

Lead author Siobhan Phillips, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said:

“Our research suggests these self-reported memory problems may be emotionally related. These women are frightened, stressed, fatigued, tapped out emotionally and have low self-confidence, which can be very mentally taxing and can lead to perceived memory problems.”

The authors of this study believe that this is the first research of its kind to study the relationship between memory problems and physical activity in cancer survivors.

This study followed 1477 breast cancer survivors from across the United States. The participants gave self-reported data, as well data from accelerometers which measured physical activity in a small group of the women in the study. In both groups, they found that higher activity levels were linked to better self-reported memory and cognitive function.

While the study shows that exercise can help improve a breast cancer survivor’s memory issues, the study doesn’t show that any one exercise program yields the best results. Researchers are aware that in order to do this, another study would have to be conducted where participants with increased physical activity were compared to those had not increased their activity.

Siobhan Phillips also stated that exercise is a great way to not only reduce stress, but it also results in fewer side effects than any medication that might help with either stress reduction or improved cognitive function.

The study was published July 8 in the journal Pscyho-Oncology.