Does walking protect against decline in cognitive functioning among breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy? Results from a small randomised controlled trial

BACKGROUND: Cancer related cognitive impairments have been subjectively reported and objectively detected in breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy and are known to have a profound negative impact on productivity, psychosocial well-being and overall quality of life. Moderate levels of walking are known to be of benefit to the psychosocial well-being of those affected by breast cancer and for managing cognitive impairment in healthy adults, children, and the elderly. The purpose of this study is to investigate the effects of a home-based, self-managed, moderate intensity walking intervention on subjective and objective cognitive functioning in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. METHODS: A home-based, self-managed intervention that consisted of moderate levels of walking was compared to usual care among breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy in a randomised controlled trial. Outcome measures included changes in subjective (CFQ) and objectively detected cognitive functioning (Stroop, SART and two subscales from the WAIS- Digit Span and Block Design). Fifty participants were randomised to either the intervention group (n = 25), who completed 12 weeks of moderate intensity walking, or to the control group (n = 25) mid-way through chemotherapy. RESULTS: Compared with the control group, the self-managed walking intervention had positive effects on perceived cognitive function but not on sustained attention, executive function, memory or visual spatial skills when assessed objectively using neuropsychological measures. CONCLUSION: This home-based, self-managed intervention is beneficial for protecting against perceived cognitive decline in breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy. There is a need for further research to objectively assess cognitive decline within this population with larger sample sizes of patients. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN50709297.