Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Catch to Chemotherapy

The Catch to Chemotherapy. 

Breast cancer survival rate is continuously improving in many countries. Some therapies have been able to help diminish the effects of chemotherapy, but show other sorts of side effects such as a decrease in hemoglobin level, muscle strength, and reduced cardiorespiratory fitness. It is no secret that the effects of chemotherapy can be extremely harsh to one’s body, but recently it has been discovered that exercise can improve one’s physical function and describe one’s fatigue when it comes to chemotherapy.

The OptiTrain trial was conducted to see the effects of high-intensity interval training (RT-HIIT, AT-HIIT, or UC) in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. As a result, the trial lasted 16 weeks and exercise groups trained twice every week under supervision of an exercise physiology or oncology nurse. The results of the 240 women showed that muscle strength was significantly improved and that there was a decrease in pain sensitivity. It also showed that there was a success in preventing any declines in their cardiorespiratory fitness and that HIIT is an effective and time-saving training strategy that results in similar benefits as high-volume aerobic training. It is recommended that women who receive chemotherapy for primary breast cancer should have access to a HIIT regimen.

As a biology major, cancer has always been a topic of interest to me. Fortunately, my family and I have not had to deal with any type of cancer, but one of my closest friend’s father died from cancer and it took a big toll on her. I think it’s safe to say that many people see chemotherapy as something that’s “negative” in a sense because of the varying side effects it has on a person’s body. Chemotherapy can damage blood-forming cells in the bone marrow, hair follicles and cells in the reproductive system or digestive tract. Worst case scenario, it can even damage cells such as the heart, nervous system and other crucial body parts. 

Reading this article made me wonder about not just people who are diagnosed with breast cancer, but other cancers and whether or not they know that there are other options for them. Just because they have to go through with chemotherapy, doesn’t mean that they can’t do something to help diminish the side effects. I can only imagine how one would feel if they found out they had cancer, but I think knowing about different treatments and options really do give these people hope and a chance to start over. I know HIIT isn’t a cure for cancer, but it is definitely something that helps your body through possible rough treatments. 

Catherine Tsang (2)


  1. Cancer is a disease which fascinates me as well being a biologist. My uncle suffered from brain cancer and up until the day he passed he was constantly in pain. I had no idea that there were ways to alleviate the symptoms of chemotherapy, especially exercise. I always thought that patients were too weak to force themselves to engage in physical activity, but it is interesting to find out that will actually help them in the grand scheme of things. In reality, I feel like we should have known exercise would be helpful due to the vast amount of benefits it brings! I wonder what other diseases scientists will characterize as one that benefits from physical conditioning.

    -Kamilla Leao (2)

    1. Aw, I'm sorry to hear about your grandfather. I feel so lucky that none of my family members (that I know of) have been diagnosed with cancer. Isn't it fascinating to hear that exercise can alleviate the symptoms of chemotherapy?! When I read this, I knew I had to share this and let people hear more about it. Now people can exercise and try to alleviate symptoms of chemotherapy and be on the better road to recovery!
      -Posted by Catherine Tsang (3)

  2. I am a HIIT enthusiast! It is absolutely magical how many benefits it can give you in such a short period of time. It makes me very happy to hear that it has been able to help with cancer patients as well. For anyone who does not know, HIIT stands for high intensity interval training. Instead of doing cardio for 45-60 mins, you can achieve even better results in just 15-20 mins. Basically, you have short intervals where you give it your all then you follow it with a brief period of rest. It's awesome if you want to maintain and build muscle while doing cardio as well as burn a significant amount of fat.

    Posted by Sarah Kamukala

  3. That is interesting, I always knew that chemo was something that was a treatment for cancer that wasn't exactly easy on the body. But after reading your post something I'm wondering is that if their are any other things one could do to help remedy the harshness of doing chemo. I know smoking weed apparently is something some people do as well. But regardless, would have never guessed getting patients who are weak beyond belief to do Hi intensity training would help.

    -Leon Mamish

  4. I'm actually thinking the same thing! After I read about this, I was curious if there were more treatments out there that could help alleviate the harsh chemotherapy effects. I understand that technology and science is improving on the daily, but the typical person doesn't really hear about this. I only heard about this HIIT treatment because I was deliberately looking for something of my interest. I'm glad that other people find this interesting! (Reply to Leon)

    -Posted by Catherine Tsang (3)

  5. Very interesting post! I also love incorporating HIIT workouts into my exercise regime, so seeing this linked to breast cancer treatment really peaked my interest. Honestly, I was shocked to initially read that such a study was performed because as the name suggests, HIIT workouts can be very intense and taxing on the body. We always think of patients receiving chemotherapy as weak and frail, so it personally surprised me that the participants of this study were able to engage in such a demanding type of workout! It makes me wonder what the average age and pre-cancer fitness level of participants involved were. But I also think HIIT (or any daily physical activity for that matter) is an incredible holistic approach to maintaining one's health both in everyday life and during chemotherapy treatment!

    -Nicole Ayres (1)

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