August 7, 2019

Strengthening survivorship outcomes

Lisa Cadmus-Bertram and Jess Gorzelitz sitting on a medical imaging machine

Madison, Wis. — Everyone has heard they should “eat healthy and exercise” for better quality of life, and cancer survivors are no different.

Pictured above: Lisa Cadmus-Bertram, PhD, and kinesiology graduate student Jess Gorzelitz

“The largest branch of our research program focuses on lifestyle interventions for cancer survivors,” says kinesiology professor and UW Carbone Cancer Center member Lisa Cadmus-Bertram, PhD.

Cadmus-Bertram recently chose to focus on endometrial cancer survivors, because it is one of the cancers most strongly linked to obesity. Previous studies with these women have largely focused on weight loss through increased physical activity plus changes in diet.

“With the combined interventions, you don’t know what the relative contribution of each individual component has on the outcomes,” Cadmus-Bertram says. “And we know that losing weight is hard, and keeping it off is hard. We decided to set aside the weight loss part and instead focus on something we thought would be very empowering: building muscle mass and strength.”

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Dr. Cadmus-Bertram's study is open and actively seeking women to enroll. Participants do not have to be UW Health patients, though travel to Madison is required a few times during the trial. Learn how to participate

Cadmus-Bertram and Jess Gorzelitz, a kinesiology graduate student, opened a clinical trial to study the effects of a strength training program on endometrial cancer survivorship. Participants are first evaluated for such factors as lean-vs-muscle mass, functional fitness and quality of life indicators. Then, they receive exercise equipment, access to online exercise videos and 10 weeks of in-person and video call instruction with Gorzelitz. Women in the control group receive the equipment and video access at the end of the trial.

“A lot of what we’re interested in is, can we help people gain strength and balance, to be able to do the things they want to do more easily?” Cadmus-Bertram says. “The nice thing about strength training is, the muscle adaptations happen relatively quickly, so participants should be able to feel differences in their strength after a few weeks.”

This study is open and actively seeking women to enroll. Participants do not have to be UW Health patients, though travel to Madison is required a few times during the trial.

Cadmus-Bertram is also building off findings from another survivorship trial that she conducted through UW Health three years ago. In that trial, she asked if linking patients’ physical activity – as measured through a trial-provided Fitbit – to their health records increased overall activity.

“We got really good results from that study and found that our intervention did increase physical activity quite a bit over the 12 weeks of the study,” Cadmus-Bertram says. “Our new study, which we expect to open soon to breast and endometrial cancer survivors at UW Health, is based on results from that previous study but a little different.”

In this newer trial, all patients who enroll will be given a Fitbit, and the activity data will link to their electronic health records. Participants will then receive automated messages through UW Health’s MyChart patient portal to indicate their progress. Depending on individual progress, the study may allow for other intervention components, such as membership to an online gym with exercise videos or telephone-based coaching. This trial will open both at UW Health and at Northwestern University.

“The goal of this study is based on our observations from our previous research that when you give people technology-based lifestyle interventions, there is a subset of people that does really well with that alone, and then there’s a subset that really benefits from additional support,” Cadmus-Bertram says. “So we’re trying to be more precise in developing an intervention that can adapt to the individual needs of the participant.”