Fatigue is one of most common symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment. At least 20 percent of breast cancer patients experience persistent cancer-related fatigue even after completion of treatment. Fatigue is different than tiredness and often distressing as it is marked by physical, mental, and emotional tiredness, and does not subside with sleep.
Cancer-related fatigue is difficult to treat in part because it is likely to have multiple contributors, requiring several types of treatments (medication, lifestyle changes, and no “quick fixes”), and adding to already complex cancer management regimens.
Recent research has shown that exercise can increase energy levels and combat fatigue associated with chronic medical conditions, including cancer. With the support of a grant from the PNC Charitable Trust, a group of Mason faculty researchers are studying the impact of prescribed aerobic exercise compared to a self-selected exercise routine for patients experiencing breast cancer-related fatigue.
In order to help support this research effort, Lynn Gerber, of the Center for Study of Chronic Illness and Disability and the Department of Health Administration and Policy, received a grant from the PNC Charitable Trust. She also bridged a public and private, community-based partnership, collaborating with Washington Sports Club in Fairfax to allow study participants to use the club’s facility.
“The community was, and is, very receptive to collaborating with us to address this and other public health issues,” Gerber said. “We and the George Mason Community have the opportunity to be good community dwellers and to use our expertise in health services research to provide our fellow community members with the support they need to improve their health.”
This type of research succeeds only with community and private sector support, and demonstrates the importance of utilizing the available local resources and expertise to improve the community’s health and to provide “personalized medicine.”
“When people think of personalized medicine, they often think of pharmacogenomics. However, personalized medicine can be broader and focused on identifying prevention and treatment strategies that work for the individual. Successful rehabilitation aims to improve function and enable the best fit for patients in their own environment, hence the need for community-based partnerships.” Gerber said. “Managing study participants close to home and at their convenience are central to developing the most effective treatment strategies.”
Gerber assembled an interdisciplinary team of researchers at Mason, who have been collaborating for several years, including Ali Weinstein and Patrice Winter of the Department of Global and Community Health in the College of Health and Human Services; Guoqing Diao of the Department of Statistics in the Volgenau School of Engineering; and Ancha Baranova of the College of Science, School of Systems Biology.
The randomized study, which is still currently enrolling participants, is comparing the effects of two types of exercise: a prescribed aerobic exercise intervention and a self-selected exercise intervention. The primary outcome is the change in participants’ level of fatigue, and secondary outcomes are changing in biological measures associated with fatigue, such as blood glucose and lipids.
“Our goal is to determine if participation in an exercise routine improves when someone self-selects their exercise program,” Gerber said. “These interventions have the potential to save lives, improve patients’ well-being and to have a positive impact on their quality of life.”