Cancer and exercise
The effects of cancer and exercise
Cancer occurs when abnormal cells multiply without control. Prostate, breast, melanoma, lung and bowel cancers account for 60% of all cancers in Australia.
People diagnosed with cancers may be at greater risk of dying from other causes such as cardiovascular disease as exercise levels drop in people with cancers.
As the patient receives chemotherapy and other treatment for cancer, common side-effects of treatment include fatigue, pain, impaired immune function and increases in body weight and body composition (Increased in % body fat). Furthermore bone health diminishes and fluid builds up in joints.
The recent research is strongly in favour that physical activity plays an important role in the prevention of cancer in particular colorectal, breast and endometrial cancer, as well as emerging evidence associated with reduced risk of other cancers such as prostate, lung and ovarian cancer.
Why is exercise important for cancer survivors?
The view in the exercise physiology world is that post diagnosis of cancer in patients; exercise after diagnosis may improve long-term survival rates, at least in breast and colon cancer. Some of the improvements include:
- Muscle strength, mass, power
- Range of motion in muscles/joints
- Physical function
- Body image, mood, self-esteem
The reductions of issues related to cancer patients with the involvement of Physical Activity and Exercise.
- Duration of hospitalisation
- Psychological and emotional stress
- Number and severity of symptoms and side
- Effects reported (pain, fatigue)
What type of exercise is best for cancer survivors?
An exercise program should be individualised and specific to the patient. This will depend on when the cancer treatment will occur and the presence and severity of symptoms. It’s important to understand that it will be unrealistic to perform exercise immediately after surgery or during other associated treatments. However trying to minimise sedentary behaviours is important.
Overtime the goal of the cancer patient is to build up to 30mins of Physical activity/day at moderate intensity as well as include at least 2 sessions of resistance based exercises for the major muscle groups. 48 hours between sessions is important for recovery.
Is exercise safe for cancer survivors?
Some cancer survivors may have a higher risk of heart attack or other cardiovascular events than the general population. Extra care is also required for those that have a decreased bone density through the cancer treatment, so fracture is an increase risk.
Barriers to exercise
Unfortunately, side effects, such as pain, nausea, fatigue and other symptoms may make it difficult for cancer survivors to adhere to a regular exercise program. Any exercise program that the patient undertakes has to take into consideration their struggles on a daily basis with their recovery and most importantly exercising at appropriate levels may not improve the side effects, but should not make them worse.
Contraindications to Exercise
Contraindications to exercise are the same for cancer survivors as for the general populations. However, additional concerns need to be considered. Specifically, exercise may not be suitable for cancer survivors when experiencing symptoms like fever, low blood cell count and or a recent change in treatment-related symptoms.
Your Accredited exercise physiologist (AEP) can help address common barriers to exercising during and after cancer treatment and provide exercise modification when needed. An AEP’s professional support can ensure exercise is done safely.
How cancer survivors can become and remain active?
Goal-setting is important – short-term and long-term goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely need to be defined.