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Breast cancer patients may help boost survival chances by building muscle, study says

Chemotherapy and radiation are common treatments for breast cancer. However, building muscle may also help boost chances of survival, according to a new report. 

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Researchers from Kaiser Permanente recently conducted a study, published in JAMA Oncology, to determine the association between muscle quality and the disease. 

To do so, they examined 3,241 women from Kaiser Permanente of Northern California and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. The participants were diagnosed with stages II or III breast cancer between January 2000 and December 2013. Scientists then used CT scans to observe muscle tissues.

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After analyzing the results, they found that higher muscle mass upped survival rates, while lower muscle mass was linked with a higher risk of death.

In fact, more than one-third of the individuals with sarcopenia, a condition that causes muscle loss, “had a significantly increased risk of death compared with patients without sarcopenia,” the authors wrote in the study.

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Furthermore, building muscle may also help with other cancers.

“Our findings are likely generalizable across many other nonmetastatic cancers because the associations with muscle and improved survival for those with metastatic cancer has been observed across a variety of solid tumors,” they said.

While the scientists did not thoroughly explore why low muscle mass is connected to low breast cancer survival rates, they think inflammation may be a factor as cancer-related inflammation can decrease muscle mass and increase fat.

The researchers now hope to continue their investigations and believe their findings will lead to better treatment practices.

“We should also consider interventions to improve muscle mass, such as resistance training or protein supplementation,” they said. “In the era of precision medicine, the direct measurement of muscle and adiposity will help to guide treatment plans and interventions to optimize survival outcomes.” 

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