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  • Posted August 9, 2023

Aerobic Exercise Might Ease Pain for Women Who've Survived Ovarian Cancer

Patients being treated for ovarian cancer often experience peripheral neuropathy, a side effect from their chemotherapy that can cause both pain and numbness for months, or even years.

Now, a new study suggests that six months of aerobic exercise may ease this unpleasant side effect.

"The results from this trial hold the potential to transform supportive care for ovarian cancer survivors by offering a new approach to managing CIPN [chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy]," said senior study author Leah Ferrucci, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health and a member of Yale Cancer Center.

"These findings provide compelling evidence that a structured, home-based aerobic exercise program can significantly improve CIPN in ovarian cancer survivors who have completed chemotherapy," Ferrucci said in a Yale news release.

The structured aerobic exercise intervention in the study had already been found to improve physical health-related quality of life. For this new research on patients with ovarian cancer who received chemotherapy, the investigators evaluated the impact of the exercise program and compared it to a control group of patients not in the exercise program.

Patients in the exercise intervention arm of the study had a reduction of 1.3 points in CIPN symptoms at the end of the six-month program. Those in the control group, who only received weekly health education phone calls, had a minor increase in CIPN symptoms of 0.4 points.

The positive effects of aerobic exercise were even stronger for participants who had CIPN symptoms when they enrolled in the trial. This subgroup experienced a 2-point reduction in CIPN severity.

The research, which was published Aug. 1 in the journal JAMA Network Open, was supported by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, the U.S. National Center for Advancing Translational Science, and the Yale Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center.

"Incorporating referrals to exercise intervention programs into standard oncology care could be a game-changer, reducing CIPN symptoms and enhancing the quality of life for patients with ovarian cancer," study first author Anlan Cao, a doctoral student at the Yale School of Public Health, said the release.

"While further studies are needed to replicate these promising results in patients with ovarian cancer and other cancer types, if aerobic exercise proves to be a reliable treatment for CIPN, it could offer a wide range of cancer survivors a better approach to manage neuropathy symptoms," Cao noted.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.

SOURCE: Yale Cancer Center/Smilow Cancer Hospital, news release, Aug. 7, 2023

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