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Last Updated: 03/25/13

Exercise Researcher Refocuses Career on Cancer Prevention and Control Studies

NCI CAM Annual Report FY 10

Lynette Craft, Ph.D., is a kinesiologist who began her scientific career studying the use of exercise to improve symptoms in patients with clinical depression. However, while pursuing her post-doctoral work at Boston University she had the opportunity to work on an NCI-funded research study “in which we were primarily looking at physical health outcomes related to exercise involvement with breast cancer patients,” she recalled. “I became very interested in the mental health outcomes that might also result from breast cancer survivors participating in exercise programs.”

Now an Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University School of Medicine, Dr. Craft is using an NCI Mentored Career Development Award* to shift gears and refocus her research into the growing field of exercise and cancer prevention and care. “It will allow me the time I need to initiate this new line of research and to develop collaborative relationships with other investigators who are doing similar types of work and move forward in my career,” she noted.

Dr. Craft is currently using the career award to conduct a pilot randomized controlled trial to explore the feasibility and effectiveness of an intermittent exercise intervention in women with early stage breast cancer who are at least 6 months post adjuvant treatment. This intermittent-exercise group will be compared to a standard exercise intervention and a usual care control group, to determine which intervention can most effectively alleviate cancer-related symptoms (depression, pain, and fatigue) and positively impact biomarkers of metabolic function.

“We know that, physiologically, the accu­mulation of exercise through shorter bouts (15 minutes each) generates the same kind of physical health outcomes as does one longer bout of 30 minutes,” Dr. Craft said. “However, we don’t really know whether the effects of two small bouts of exercise will be the same as one longer session on relieving pain, depression, and fatigue. That’s one thing we’re looking at: Will we find equivalent effects on those outcomes?”

The study will also examine exercise adherence rates because if breast cancer patients “are expe­riencing pain, fatigue, and depression, they may find it easier to do shorter bouts of exercise than to do 30 minutes all at once,” she added.

Dr. Craft has assembled an “A-team” of co-mentors at Northwestern University and its NCI-designated Cancer Center and elsewhere who are helping her with this cancer exer­cise study. “When I came to Northwestern University, the Cancer Center here was very excited about having someone who could do exercise-related research,” she recalled. Her team includes a cancer epidemiologist, a clinical psychologist and behavioral medicine expert, an expert in quality of life measurement in cancer patients, a breast surgeon, and an expert in developing exercise interventions with cancer survivors. These experienced researchers will guide Dr. Craft’s progress, provide supervision, and support the activities outlined in her career development plan.

Dr. Craft said, “I hope to continue my career along this path of cancer survivor research. I see exercise and mental health as an important area that can benefit all types of cancer survivors, not just breast cancer patients. There are several other types of cancer, like head and neck cancer or prostate cancer, whose survivors experience high rates of depression but have not been extensively studied with respect to exercise interventions.”

Another group of people who have not received much attention in the exercise literature are adolescent and young adult cancer survivors. “Often they have higher levels of distress, for some of the same, but also for different, reasons than older patients,” Dr. Craft commented. “We know that lifestyle issues like being over­weight and obesity are starting younger and younger, so that might be an interesting group to look at with respect to how exercise affects their mental health, as well as how exercise affects physical health outcomes.”

*Grant number: 5K07CA134936-02