Exercise should be part of the treatment plan

Exercise is an integral part of cancer care and can result in a wide range of benefits for patients, an expert has told the MOGA conference.

Associate Professor Prue Cormie, an exercise physiologist from the Institute for Health and Ageing at the Australian Catholic University, said oncologists were extremely influential in motivating patients to engage with exercise.

“We get people who turn up to our door who have never exercised before and who don’t particularly want to exercise,” she told delegates.

Associate Professor Cormie told the MOGA ASM there was good quality evidence for the benefits of exercise in mitigating a number of side effects of cancer treatment.

“Exercise can help prevent physical deconditioning, help manage fatigue and psychological distress, and help maintain a positive body composition,” she said.

“Patients who can improve their fitness, strength and functional capacity will be less encumbered by their disease.”

Exercise has also been shown to improve specific cancer or cancer treatment related effects.

For example, aerobic exercise has been shown to modulate chemotherapy-induced cardiotoxicity in breast cancer patients, she said.

Exercise, especially resistance exercise has been shown to help prevent and manage lymphoedema.

Associate Professor Cormie said appropriately prescribed exercise would also help patients manage symptoms such as pain and improve their health-related quality of life.

However there was no guarantee that activities such as ‘boot camp in the park’ were effective or appropriate.

“Exercise is safe before, during and after treatment when appropriately prescribed and monitored. If we want to realise its significant health benefits, we need to treat exercise as a medicine.”

She said medical oncologists should refer patients to accredited exercise physiologists or physiotherapists with expertise in oncology.

Supervised, clinic-based programs that were tailored and progressed in line with symptom response were ideal.

“A group based environment keeps costs low and also allows for engagement with other patients and we found that certainly helps with maximising adherence, and from a mental and social wellbeing point of view.”

She said costs could be subsidised by Medicare through chronic disease programs.

The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia is expected to release a position statement on exercise and cancer in the next few weeks.

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