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Bone Health After Breast Cancer Treatment

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Published on March 11, 2020

Key Takeaways

Cancer treatments can age the body and impact bone health. How can patients protect their bones and develop strength?

Watch as Cathy Skinner, exercise specialist and founder of Thrivors, shares information on impact exercises that can help counteract the effects of chemotherapy and optimize bone health.

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Transcript | Bone Health After Breast Cancer Treatment

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Andrea Hutton:         

Hello, I’m Andrea Hutton from Patient Power, and I’m very excited to be here today with Cathy Skinner who is a cancer exercise specialist.

Cathy Skinner:          

Hello.

Andrea Hutton:            

Thank you so much for joining us today. 

Cathy Skinner:              

Absolutely. Thank you. 

Andrea Hutton:            

So, you have been doing a study on exercise, bone health and cancer. Can you tell me about what you learned, why you started to do this study, and what does that mean for me?

Cathy Skinner:              

Okay, absolutely. Well, thanks for having me on today. I’m really excited to talk to you. There’s a huge need in the breast cancer population post-treatment to deal with bone health issues. And so in response, we used our technology platform called Thrivors, populated it with bone health exercises, bone health nutrition, and we’re funded by the National Cancer Institute to do a random control trial to look at the impact of technology on adherence and engagement to a bone health program.

Andrea Hutton:            

So, first, tell me what bone health means.

Cathy Skinner:              

So, bone health becomes an issue—people either have healthy bones or bones that are less strong, so they’re called osteopenia. Or they are a lot less strong, and they’re called osteoporosis. And if you have cancer and you get treatment with chemotherapy and radiation, it can actually diminish the quality of the bone. And so bone health exercise and bone health nutrition become a critical part of cancer recovery along with building muscle mass, connective tissue, and balance and core strength.

Andrea Hutton:            

So, I know when I had my treatment, they also gave me injections that were supposed to enhance my bone strength. So that’s not enough is what you’re telling me. I’m going to have to actually move my body also. 

Cathy Skinner:              

So, yeah, ideally you have—if you need it, you have some kind of medical support to strengthen the bones. And then you can supplement it with physical activity and nutrition to put a whole package around your bone health.

Andrea Hutton:            

Okay, so you said information technology, and nutrition and exercise and bone health, all these things wrapped up together. So, what does that look like in terms of what it means for a person?

Cathy Skinner:              

Sure. So, let me give you a little bit of the back story. So, 20 years ago, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and so that’s how I came into the cancer space. And I was the first certified cancer exercise specialist in Minnesota and one of the first ones around the United States. And so, my training taught me about surgery and chemotherapy and radiation and medication side effects, both short-term and long-term. And so, by working with hundreds and hundreds of cancer patients in Minnesota, came to understand what their needs were. Not only was it physical activity, but nutrition and mindfulness and community support, and they were looking for those things, but those things were fractured.

So, through our Thrivors technology platform we’re able to bring them all together so that when cancer patients need something, it’s there at their fingertips. Because we know that the pathway for their healing is not linear, it’s one step forward, two steps back, maybe a step sideways. And so, by having everything in a platform in one location, not only for the patient but their loved ones, then they can utilize it when they need it.

Andrea Hutton:            

So, is there a single takeaway in terms of what you discovered in your research about what is the optimal thing that a patient can do across the board? Is there a certain amount of exercise I have to get? I know I’m supposed to exercise more than I do, so…how much? Do I know? Or is it so individual to me?

Cathy Skinner:              

So, it is really customized because if someone receives some kind of a cancer treatment, let’s say they have chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. One year of treatment equals 10 years of biological decline. So, if you’re 45 and you have one year of treatment, you actually are living in the body of a 55-year-old. So, it’s not that that can’t be reversed, in some sense, but you have to understand that the biological norms post-cancer treatment are a decade off from the general population.

Andrea Hutton:            

So, I feel old. I really, actually feel old. 

Cathy Skinner:              

You might be actually old.

Andrea Hutton:            

Okay. 

Cathy Skinner:              

So, with that in mind, getting people to move in any way is of utmost importance. And what our clinical trial showed us that technology can be impactful, people can engage with it, and they can adhere, and they can change their behavior. And that’s what our Phase I study was all about, to prove that people use the technology in meaningful ways. And then in 2020 we’ll be applying for additional funding where we’ll actually get to measure how cancer patients use our platform doing bone health exercises and how that actually impacts the bone health.

Andrea Hutton:

So, can you please give me an example of a bone health exercise? I’m guessing it’s not marathon running.

Cathy Skinner:              

So, bone health exercises are anything that puts torque on a bone. And so, one of the favorite exercises is actually a resistance band under the foot and in hand, and you’re raising the arm, because it’s physics. So, you pull the arm up and it actually creates torque on the bone. But the best exercise to increase bone health is jumping. And that’s assuming you don’t have cancer in your spine, and you don’t have knee replacements. I mean, there are a whole bunch of qualifications. But anything that actually puts impact on the joints and the bones. The stressing on bones is what develops bone.

And in the cancer space the goal is really to lose less bone than maybe build up bone. Because this crazy thing is happening, you’re recovering from cancer, and you’re getting older at the same time. So, we’re all aging, we’re all struggling with bone loss, and it just becomes a lot more complicated when you add a layer of cancer on top.

Andrea Hutton:            

And what is the technology piece? What does that mean? 

Cathy Skinner:              

So, we have a web-based platform where people can come to us at Thrivors.com and find our physical activity platform, nutrition, mindfulness. It’s a subscription. And so, you can find us at Thrivors.com.

Andrea Hutton:            

Thank you so much for the work you’re doing. Thank you for sharing some knowledge with us and offering us some hope as well. 

Cathy Skinner:              

Yep. Movement is key, and movement brings healing. 

Andrea Hutton:            

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Cathy Skinner:              

Thank you.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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