After you receive treatment for ovarian cancer, it’s important to your health and quality of life that you take steps to make sure you stay healthy and active. This is especially true because cancer treatment can leave the body temporarily weak and frail, contributing to muscle loss and weakness. In fact, muscle fatigue and wasting–a phenomenon known as sarcopenia–has been linked to lower life expectancy in women with ovarian cancer.
We spoke to Dr. Amanika Kumar, gynecologic oncologist at the Mayo Clinic, about what sarcopenia is, what causes it, and what steps women can take to prevent it.
How is Sarcopenia linked to Ovarian Cancer? Read More
According to Kumar, sarcopenia is muscle weakness, and researchers at Mayo Clinic have recently linked
sarcopenia to decreased survival rates in women with ovarian cancer. “What we’ve identified at Mayo is that seeing patients who are sarcopenic…have a lower survival from ovarian cancer,” says Kumar. In the study, researchers found that patients with advanced ovarian cancer who suffered from sarcopenia and muscle weakness lived nearly one year less than those whose muscles remained in good shape. It’s unclear exactly why that is, says Dr. Kumar. “It could be that sarcopenia is a sign of more aggressive disease, and that’s why patients aren’t living as long. Or it could be that sarcopenia in itself is somehow interplaying with ovarian cancer and cancer treatments, and I think there’s a lot of research to be done in that area.” In any case, lower survival rates in women with ovarian cancer has been linked to muscle weakness and it’s an important factor to note. Kumar also says that muscle quality is more important than the amount of overall muscle present. She says, “The actual amount of muscle that we have…matters, but the muscle quality seems to matter more.” It appears that researchers at the Mayo Clinic have observed that ovarian cancer patients with better muscle quality had better outcomes than those with worse muscle quality. According to Kumar, “What we’ve found at Mayo was that patients who had poor muscle quality had much more of a difference in their outcome than when we looked at muscle mass alone.” It’s clear that this isn’t the only evidence linking muscle strength to living longer in women with ovarian cancer. In fact, one study
confirmed previous results from the researchers at Mayo. It found that women with ovarian cancer who experienced muscle loss lived more than a year less than those who did not. In another study,
cancer patients with sarcopenia experienced a decreased quality of life and depression. These results underscore the necessity for women to preserve their muscles and stay active while undergoing and recovering from cancer treatment.
How can I prevent Sarcopenia?
Given these links, it’s important that women stay active and keep their muscles engaged during and after ovarian cancer surgery and chemotherapy. Kumar recommends that women:
- Stay physically active – “This can be as simple as walking,” says Dr. Kumar. Just something to get your heart rate going, such as walking thirty minutes a day.
- Engage in regular low-weight resistance – No crazy weightlifting, but at least some resistance training will help. This typically involves low-weight but high-rep exercises.
The specifics of the exercise are much less important, according to Dr. Kumar. “It doesn’t seem to matter the exercise, we just have to do something every day,” she says. So if you’re undergoing or have undergone ovarian cancer treatment, make sure to stay healthy and active! Not only will it help you get through surgery and several rounds of chemotherapy, but it will also help you preserve your muscle strength.
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