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Best treatment for cancer fatigue? Exercise Gailevicius

Amy Schnitzler loves running.

She would often try to run five miles a day, but that was before the Henrietta woman was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2016.  Amy, who is 27, learned in November that the cancer had spread to her lungs.

She has undergone more than three months of chemotherapy and, like many cancer patients, experienced extreme fatigue.

"It's not like anything I remember feeling prior to chemotherapy. Words fail to describe it."

Despite the exhaustion, Amy tried to keep moving when she could.

"Some days, when the fatigue was quite bad it was just gentle yoga, some light stretching, maybe a light walk. But on days when I'm up to it, I'm running. I have energy afterward. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but that's totally been my experience."

Even though Amy was not taking part in a recent study published in JAMA Oncology, Amy’s experience is comparable to what researchers have found. Exercise should be a first-line therapy for patients experiencing cancer-related fatigue.

"Some of our data is actually showing that even these very low intensity forms of exercise can create an exercise-induced, anti-inflammatory effect in these cancer patients that is akin to taking a very, very low dose of an anti-inflammatory drug," said  Karen Mustian, Ph.D., of the University of Rochester’s Cancer Control Program and the lead author of the study.

Even 10 to 15 minutes of moderate walking can be helpful to cancer patients who are experiencing chronic fatigue.

"We're not talking about turning people into marathon runners or heavy duty weight trainers; we're not talking about vigorous yoga classes or things like that,” Mustian said. “We're talking about very low intensity, short bouts of easy to do exercise, or what some people might consider increasing your level of physical activity."

The study analyzed the results of 113 previous studies involving more than 11,000 patients that tested the various treatments for cancer-related fatigue.  Nearly half of the study participants were women diagnosed with breast cancer.  Ten of the studies looked at other forms of cancer and enrolled only male patients.

Psychological treatments had a similar beneficial effect on fatigue.  Studies combining exercise and psychological therapy had mixed results, and drugs that were prescribed for cancer-related fatigue, such as modafinil and Ritalin, were not as effective.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.