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Updated: 04/05/13

Exercise Intervention Studied for Heart Failure in Cancer Survivors

Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences

One of the more serious and distressing late side effects of cancer treatment is chemotherapy-induced heart failure. Exercise training has been found to be beneficial for non-cancer patients with heart failure, as well as for cancer survivors without heart failure. Researchers are now testing exercise in cancer survivors with chemotherapy-induced heart failure.

Karen Basen-Engquist, M.P.H., Ph.D., professor of behavioral science at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, is co-principal investigator (co-PI) for the study called Take Heart. “I began planning this study a few years ago with one of the cardiologists at M.D. Anderson,” she recalled. The current pilot study, funded by NCI*, is a first-time collaboration between M.D. Anderson’s Behavioral Science and Cardiology Departments. Dr. Basen- Engquist works closely with co-PI and cardiologist Elie Mouhayar, M.D., FACC.

Take Heart is a structured exercise intervention for patients with heart failure related to their chemotherapy. Patients in the intervention group exercise under supervision three times a week for 16 weeks, and during the last eight weeks, they also start home-based exercise. “The goal is to get the patients exercising up to 30 minutes at each session,” said Dr. Basen- Engquist. “We start from wherever they are. Some come in at first and can only do a couple of minutes, rest, and then do a few more minutes, and that’s it. We work on building them up from there.”

The pilot study will enroll 80 patients. After baseline testing, the patients will be randomly assigned to receive either the 16-week Take Heart lifestyle intervention or usual care, Dr. Basen-Engquist added. “We’ll take patients on the study once they’re stabilized on medication for heart failure,” she said. “One thing we’d like to learn from this study is whether it is possible to lower their drug dose if their heart failure symptoms are kept more under control with exercise. That’s not something we know yet.”

If results from the pilot study are promising, “we hope to move on to a larger clinical trial of Take Heart,” Dr. Basen-Engquist noted. “There have been cardiac rehabilitation programs for many years. Those of us who are doing exercise research in the cancer field are really looking at the creation of cancer rehabilitation programs. There are multiple benefits from exercise for people with cancer including quality of life. This points toward incorporating more exercise programs into cancer treatment and after-care.”

*Grant Number: 5R21CA135016-02