Exercise can likely reduce the risk of heart disease in women with breast cancer, results of a clinical trial have shown.

Breast cancer patients are exposed to a higher risk of cardiovascular complications during and after cancer treatment from chemotherapy and radiation therapy. These can be exacerbated by obesity and sedentary lifestyles.

The study found that patients who participated in a 16-week exercise programme had a significantly reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease over their sedentary counterparts.

Old woman exercising with a nurse

"The main cause of mortality in women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer is heart disease," said Kyuwan Lee, doctoral student at the University of Southern California (USC), noting that prescribed exercise is not considered standard care currently.

"We hope that this study shows the importance of exercise in reducing the risk of heart disease to emphasize the need to integrate exercise into clinical practice for cancer patients," he added.

For the study, published in the journal Oncology, the team conducted a randomized clinical trial that included 100 sedentary, obese women breast cancer stage I-III survivors.

The women participated in three weekly supervised one-on-one exercise sessions for 16 weeks: 80-minute sessions of resistance and aerobic exercise for two days and 50 minutes of aerobic exercise on the third day. This intervention meets the exercise guidelines set forth by the American Cancer Society for cancer survivors.