Building muscle isn’t part of a cancer patient’s treatment plan. But in light of a new breast cancer study, maybe it should be.

According to the study, women who have ample muscles increase their chances of survival with breast cancer.


To come to this conclusion, scientists looked at more than 3,000 patients from Kaiser Permanente of Northern California and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. One-third of those showcased poor muscle mass.

The study’s authors argue that muscle mass is often overlooked in the medical world. According to their research, considering muscle as a survival factor could save cancer patients’ lives.  

Even more interesting, the study also focused on patients with breast cancer in its earlier stages—stage 2 or 3. This fact makes the results more applicable to cancer patients all across the spectrum.

Then, the scientists followed up with patients for an average 6 years. What they found was a stark contrast in mortality between patients characterized with poor muscle versus good muscle.


They did not, however, find a direct relationship between body mass index (BMI) and survival.

Previously, studies have focused on this aspect, yet they’ve yielded inconsistent results. Some studies showed a correlation while others did not, and researchers have yet to figure out why the inconsistency occurred.

The authors of this breast cancer study conjecture that the inconsistencies may be more related to participants’ muscle mass than BMI. Despite BMI, patients with more muscle may have been more likely to survive.


This study was published in the journal JAMA Oncology in April 2018.

Breast Cancer Survival Rates

Overall, usual breast cancer survival rates vary according to the tumor’s size and stage. Doctors give patients a prognosis based on this information.


The American Cancer Society says that those diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer hold a survival rate over 90 percent. If it has spread to nearby locations, the rate is 85 percent.

However, late-stage survival lowers significantly—around 27 percent. These rates change according to a tumor’s size as well.

In the future, doctors could give an increasingly accurate prognosis based on the patient’s muscle mass.  

To some degree, cancer patients can’t help having little muscle. You may have noticed that patients often lose weight due to the disease and its chemotherapy treatment.

According to Women’s Health Magazine, people always lose some muscle when losing weight. In fact, registered dietician and founder of Soho Strength Lab, Albert Matheny, lists ways to minimize that effect.

Most cancer patients probably don’t try to minimize their muscle loss, however. This study is suggesting they should, and patients should also build muscle as well.

Building Muscle

Building muscle for women can mean simple exercises meant to tone muscles, not provide bulk. Livestrong recommends that you perform exercises using a low amount of weight and high repetitions.

Low-weight dumbbells and bodyweight exercises prove ideal for this goal. Then, counter the strength-training with your favorite cardio activities for a well-rounded routine.

Taking simple steps now, whether you have cancer or not, can prepare you if you develop health problems later. For cancer patients, work with your doctor on developing the best routine for your situation.