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Penn State study explores factors that influence and hinder physical activity among minority cancer survivors

Penn State researchers seek to investigate available resources and relevant factors that hinder or promote physical activity participation among minority cancer survivors in a newly published study titled Physical Activity Barriers and Resources Among Black Women With a History of Breast and Endometrial Cancer: A Systematic Review.

Previous cancer studies, which aimed at increasing physical activity, usually focused predominantly on Caucasian populations. However, statistics show that African-American women are at a higher risk of dying from breast cancer and endometrial cancer than Caucasian women, and that overall, Black women tend to be more physically inactive compared to Caucasian women.

A head-and-shoulders professional photo of Natasha Burse, DrPH student

Natasha Burse, DrPH student

Natasha Renee Burse, a graduate research assistant and doctor of public health (DrPH) candidate at Penn State College of Medicine, is leading a group of researchers looking at intervention and observational studies to better understand physical activity participation among African-American women who are cancer survivors. Reviewing studies from 2005 to 2018, the researchers uncovered some challenges faced by Black women when pursing physical activity, as well as strategies to increase their physical activity.

Published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, findings show that many African-American women who are cancer survivors encounter multiple barriers including fatigue, lack of social support, weather issues, health issues (such as lymphedema), cost, time constraints, transportation and medical clearances when pursing physical activity.

Conversely, the most common facilitators were faith, other health concerns (such as improved body composition) and social support. Overall, among Black women, the intervention studies showed 91% had improvements in physical activity, and 33% reported high retention rates.

These findings underscore the need to develop culturally relevant interventions that incorporate key motivators to help improve health outcomes and health behaviors among minority cancer survivors. In addition, the research highlights the need for future studies to target and address limitations related to physical activity among black women with a history of cancer.

Continued educational resources are also valuable for reaching this audience. Many survivors are unaware of the benefits of physical activity, and the role it has in reducing the risks of cancer recurrence. Culturally-tailored resources should be developed and accessible to this population. These materials should convey important information including the health benefits survivors receive from engaging in regular physical activity.

Joining Burse on this project are Penn State researchers Nishat Bhuiyan, Scherezade K. Mama and Kathryn H. Schmitz.

Burse was also a co-author on another recently completed and published study, titled Understanding Nutritional Problems of Metastatic Breast Cancer Patients.. Read more about that project here.

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