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UVM research: Breast cancer patients at high risk for heart disease

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New research from the University of Vermont's College of Medicine shows breast cancer patients have low fitness and that's putting them at a higher risk of heart disease later on.

Bonnie Parent is taking the next step toward better health and improved fitness. She's just finished months of chemotherapy and radiation after being diagnosed with breast cancer last fall.

But now, she faces a higher risk of cardiovascular disease in future years. According to researchers, patients with breast cancer have much lower fitness following treatment than women without it.

"We looked at studies published not only here in the U.S., but from all over the world, including thousands of patients with breast cancer and we did this by doing what's called a meta-analysis, which is where we essentially study other studies," said Amanda Peel, UVM medical student.

Overall that research showed women with breast cancer have worse heart and lung function than healthy women of the same age. The inability to exercise during treatment, and the drugs themselves may play a role.

"A number of the treatments that we use for breast cancer, the chemotherapy and the radiation, we've known that they are cardio toxic for a very long time, but there just haven't been a lot of studies done specifically showing the decline in fitness when women are treated for breast cancer," said Peel.

And that's why Dr. Susan Lakoski is now recording how efficiently Parent takes in oxygen and breathes out carbon dioxide. It's giving providers baseline results so Parent can begin Fletcher Allen Health Care's 12 week Steps to Wellness program. She says she's ready to take control of her life and her fitness once again.

"I lost total control of what was happening to my body. I was just in a trust mode and people were wonderful to encourage that trust, but still, it was out of my hands completely," said Parent.

She has big goals now.

"I'm really anxious to get my muscles back real good and I want to climb Mount Philo again," said Parent.

Those are lofty goals, but given the research that shows her at risk of low fitness and high lung and heart disease those goals could be life altering. 

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