Prescribing Exercise Before and During Cancer Treatment May Lead to Better Outcomes

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Prescribing Exercise Before and During Cancer Treatment May Lead to Better Outcomes
Prescribing Exercise Before and During Cancer Treatment May Lead to Better Outcomes

Prescribing an exercise regimen for patients with cancer prior to and during treatment may lead to a better quality of life and less fatigue, according to researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI. 

The researchers have found that incorporating exercise into cancer treatment programs has the potential to benefit patients both physically and psychologically.  In addition, exercise may help mitigate some of the side effects resulting from cancer treatment. 

“A patient with breast cancer who is receiving chemotherapy and has had radiation and hormone therapy is different than a woman getting a lumpectomy.  So [treatment] has to be tailored.  Patients won't do well long-term if they can't come back to their baseline, and that can be done through exercise,” said study investigator Eleanor Walker, MD, who heads the Department of Breast Radiation Oncology at Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, MI. 

To study how exercise impacts patients with cancer, Dr. Walker and her colleagues developed a program called ExCITE (Exercise and Cancer Integrative Therapies and Education) and conducted a study with 30 female patients with breast cancer and 20 patients with prostate cancer (age range: 35-80 years).  All the patients were newly diagnosed when they began the ExCITE program and the researchers followed them during treatment and for 1 year following completion of cancer treatment.  The researchers measured the patients' exercise capacity, skeletal muscle strength, and endurance at baseline.  They also did general blood work, metabolic screenings, bone density scans, and measured several inflammatory markers.

Exercise and diet recommendations for each patient were based on their baseline exercise tolerances, weight, overall health, and type of cancer treatment they received.  Acupuncture was used for patients who experienced hot flashes, pain, nausea/vomiting, insomnia, and neuropathy as a result of their cancer treatment.  The researchers found that patients with breast and prostate cancer who regularly exercised during and after cancer treatment reported having a better quality of life and suffered less fatigue.

“You get some patients who have never exercised,” said Dr. Walker in an interview with “You are trying to make a lifestyle change so you have to teach them that it is going to help them live better.” 

Helping Patients with Cancer Set Up Their Own Tailored Exercise Program

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota have found that a brief, at-home exercise program may be sufficient to improve mobility, fatigue, and sleep quality of patients with stage IV lung and IV colorectal cancer.1

The Mayo Clinic study published online in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management is the first to investigate what is feasible and helpful for patients with cancer who have limited time and energy. It found that a program called REST (Rapid, Easy Strength Training) benefited patients in a number of ways.

The REST Program involves a pedometer-based walking program and a series of gentle resistance movements (lifts and curls using a resistance band) that can be done standing or seated.  The workout takes only a few minutes a day and involves minimal costs to patients.  In a randomized, controlled study of 66 adults with stage IV lung or colorectal cancer, the investigators found that patients who exercised at least four times a week for 2 months showed improved mobility, had less fatigue and slept better compared to those who did not exercise.  Other measures, such as pain, were unaffected.

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