Background: Skeletal metastases present a major challenge for clinicians, representing an advanced and typically incurable stage of cancer. Bone is also the most common location for metastatic breast carcinoma, with skeletal lesions identified in over 80% of patients with advanced breast cancer. Preclinical models have demonstrated the ability of mechanical stimulation to suppress tumour formation and promote skeletal preservation at bone sites with osteolytic lesions, generating modulatory interference of tumour-driven bone remodelling. Preclinical studies have also demonstrated anti-cancer effects through exercise by minimising tumour hypoxia, normalising tumour vasculature and increasing tumoural blood perfusion. This study proposes to explore the promising role of targeted exercise to suppress tumour growth while concomitantly delivering broader health benefits in patients with advanced breast cancer with osteolytic bone metastases.

Methods: This single-blinded, two-armed, randomised and controlled pilot study aims to establish the safety, feasibility and efficacy of an individually tailored, modular multi-modal exercise programme incorporating spinal isometric training (targeted muscle contraction) in 40 women with advanced breast cancer and stable osteolytic spinal metastases. Participants will be randomly assigned to exercise or usual medical care. The intervention arm will receive a 3-month clinically supervised exercise programme, which if proven to be safe and efficacious will be offered to the control-arm patients following study completion. Primary endpoints (programme feasibility, safety, tolerance and adherence) and secondary endpoints (tumour morphology, serum tumour biomarkers, bone metabolism, inflammation, anthropometry, body composition, bone pain, physical function and patient-reported outcomes) will be measured at baseline and following the intervention.

Discussion: Exercise medicine may positively alter tumour biology through numerous mechanical and nonmechanical mechanisms. This randomised controlled pilot trial will explore the preliminary effects of targeted exercise on tumour morphology and circulating metastatic tumour biomarkers using an osteolytic skeletal metastases model in patients with breast cancer. The study is principally aimed at establishing feasibility and safety. If proven to be safe and feasible, results from this study could have important implications for the delivery of this exercise programme to patients with advanced cancer and sclerotic skeletal metastases or with skeletal lesions present in haematological cancers (such as osteolytic lesions in multiple myeloma), for which future research is recommended.

Trial registration: anzctr.org.au, ACTRN-12616001368426. Registered on 4 October 2016.


tumour suppression, tumour growth, resistance training, aerobic training, isometric training, muscle activity, exercise medicine, advanced cancer, bone metastases

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