Cancer care

Exercise should be standard care for cancer patients: COSA

In a world-first a new position statement by the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia calls for exercise to be prescribed to all cancer patients as a standard part of care.

The statement suggests exercise be viewed as an adjunct therapy to help counteract the adverse effects of cancer and its treatment, calling on oncologists and other members of multidisciplinary cancer care teams to refer their patients to exercise physiologists or physiotherapists with experience in cancer care who can create and oversee individualised programs.

The paper – endorsed by Cancer Council Australia and the Medical Oncology Group of Australia and supported by over 20 cancer and exercise organisations – recommends people with cancer work towards at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 74 minutes vigorous-intensity exercise and two or three resistance sessions per week, noting that exercise plans must be tailored to an individual’s capacity.

Between 60–70% of people with cancer do not meet aerobic exercise guidelines,while an estimated 80–90% don’t meet resistance exercise guidelines, COSA says.

“Clinical research has established exercise as a safe and effective intervention to counteract many of the adverse effects of cancer and its treatment,” the statement reads.

“To date the strongest evidence exists for improving physical function (including aerobic fitness, muscular strength and functional ability), attenuating cancer-related fatigue, alleviating psychological distress and improving quality of life”.

Furthermore, epidemiological evidence suggests being active can protect against recurrence and all-cause mortality for some types of cancer, the document states.

Lead author Associate Professor Prue Cormie, Chair of the COSA Exercise and Cancer Care Group, said that the evidence to support the statement’s recommendations was now overwhelming.

“Based on what the science tells us, exercise is the best medicine people with cancer can take, in addition to their cancer treatments, to reverse treatment related side-effects, slow the progression of their cancer, increase quality of life and improve the chances of survival,” said Professor Cormie, who is an accredited exercise physiologist and associate professor at the Mary McKillop Institute for Health Research at the Australian Catholic University.

“If we could turn the benefits of exercise into a pill it would be demanded by patients, prescribed by every cancer specialist and subsidised by government – it would be seen as a major breakthrough in cancer treatment.”

David Speakman, Chief Medical Officer at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre said that the new position statement was a significant step forward in the treatment of cancer.

“The notion that we must protect a patient, wrap them in cotton wool, is old fashioned and not supported by the research. Our attitudes to treating cancer – what it takes to give people their best chance at survival – have to change. All cancer patients will benefit from an exercise prescription.”

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