Can stress management, social support and exercise have an effect on the overall health of women recently diagnosed with breast cancer? The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is conducting a study to find out.

“We’re interested in whether these interventions have a positive impact on the overall health of these women,” says Duck-Hee Kang, PhD, assistant professor of nursing at UAB and lead investigator for the study. In particular, the study hopes to determine the effectiveness of these support programs on a woman’s immune system, clinical symptoms and overall sense of well being.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), about 182,800 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and about 40,800 women will die from the disease. “Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women,” says Kang. “It can also affect men, but women–especially those over age 40–are at much greater risk.”

The results of this study could have particular significance for African-American women who, despite having lower incidence rates of newly diagnosed cases than whites, continue to have the highest breast cancer mortality rates of any ethnic group (31.4 per 100,000), and death rates among African-American women are still approximately 28% higher than among white women, according to the ACS.

The study is being funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research, a branch of the National Institutes of Health. Researchers are recruiting 150 women, at least 30 years old, who have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer to take part in the study. Participants must also be currently undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy and should be able to take part in moderate-intensity levels of exercise.

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Data from the 1998 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance system (BRFSS) show that more than one-third of African-American adults (33.8%) reported no leisure time physical activity, with African-American women more likely than men to be physically inactive (39.9% vs. 25.9% respectively). Moreover, 64% of African-American women in 1998 were overweight and 32% of African-American women were characterized as obese.

“Although other studies have looked at the effect of exercise on the immune system, not much is known about how exercise combined with other components, such as stress management and social support, may affect the immune system,” Kang explains. “We believe these programs will be highly beneficial to women who are coping with the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.”

Women participating in the study will attend weekly stress management and support group sessions and exercise at least three times a week for 30-40 minutes for a period of eight weeks. Participants will continue to receive the standard care provided by their oncologists.

For more information, contact Teri Mobley, project coordinator, at (205) 934-7589

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