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How to Manage Cancer Treatment Side Effects with a “Whole-Person” Plan

By Pamela Yee, MD

Breast cancer patients often see me to reduce a variety of treatment side effects. Side effects during chemotherapy. Side effects from radiation. Side effects from being on long term estrogen suppression, such as Tamoxifen or Femara.

For some women, estrogen suppression, and the assumption that they are going to hit menopause like a wrecking ball, induces more fear than either chemotherapy or radiation. One day you’re living with a certain level of hormones and the next day the cord is cut. It’s easy to start imagining what it means to suddenly live without the hormones that define womanhood.

Some of the side effects of estrogen blockers are much like those in menopause: night sweats, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, insomnia, mood changes on the spectrum of irritability up to depression. Additionally, the Aromatase Inhibitors, like Femara, can cause muscle or joint pain and stiffness. In my practice, this is actually one of the most limiting side effects and a cause for some to stop their treatment.

Good News: There’s Another Way

Treatment of the muscle and join pain associated with Aromatase Inhibitors does not have to come in the form of more pharmaceuticals like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, which are very disruptive to the gastrointestinal system.

For years I’ve been advising my patients to employ techniques like acupuncture and exercise to treat side effects. Now there is research to back up my approach.

A study recently published in the Obesity Journal (1) demonstrates that exercise — both resistance training and aerobic — mitigates the side effects of Aromatase Inhibitors. How much training did it take? Weight training twice a week and 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise. Not only were side effects reduced but patients had a positive change in body composition. This is very exciting news and shows how even a small amount of exercise can have a big impact.

In many prior studies looking at the role of exercise in breast cancer patients, exercise has shown to increase survive and weight gain has been been associated with increased mortality.

Exercise has always been an important part of my treatment strategy with patients with breast cancer. The data clearly reinforces my approach as I continue to support my patients in helping them prioritize exercise in their treatment plan to increase their lifespan, improve their quality of life, and prevent recurrence.

About Dr. Yee

Pamela Yee, MD is an Integrative and Functional Medicine Physician at Blum Digital, LLC in Rye Brook, NY.   Dr. Yee has a special interest in integrative cancer care and creates highly personalized treatment plans for each of her patients. She lives in Nyack NY where she and her husband manage their own organic micro-farm.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Dr. Yee

Reference:

(1) Thomas, G. A., Cartmel, B., Harrigan, M., Fiellin, M., Capozza, S., Zhou, Y., Er-colano, E., Gross, C. P., Hershman, D., Ligibel, J., Schmitz, K., Li, F.-Y., Sanft, T. and Irwin, M. L. (2016), The effect of exercise on body composition and bone mineral den-sity in breast cancer survivors taking aromatase inhibitors. Obesity. doi:10.1002/oby.21729

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