Cancer patients who exercise have better treatment outcomes and survival rates
Prescribing exercise classes to cancer patients can improve treatment outcomes and be “life saving”, new research suggests.
A panel of cancer specialists reviewed evidence from dozens of studies on the benefits of exercise for patients undergoing treatment.
New treatment guidelines, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) annual conference, conclude doctors should recommend aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming or running, to mitigate treatment side effects.
Patients who undertake such exercise report having reduced anxiety, a better quality of life and less fatigue, the experts said.
‘Clear benefits of exercise’
“The incorporation of exercise during active treatment has clear benefits for patients with cancer, and oncologists should include recommendations to exercise [at appointments],” the new treatment guideline says.
“Exercise interventions during active treatment reduce fatigue, preserve cardiorespiratory fitness, physical functioning, and strength and in some populations, improve quality of life and reduce anxiety and depression.”
Further research being presented at ASCO, in Chicago, found exercise improves the chances of patients completing chemotherapy, therefore boosting their likelihood of their treatment success.
Some 173 women with breast cancer took part in the trial, half of whom were given exercise and healthy eating advice for a year.
The group were encouraged to undertake two and half hours of aerobic exercise a week, the current international exercise guideline, as well as two strength training sessions a week.
Participants were also given FitBits to track their steps and encourage them to hit 10,000 a day.
During the one-year trial participants were also undergoing chemotherapy.
By the end of the trial, the active group carried out 128 minutes of exercise each week, versus just 34 minutes in the beginning. The non-active group completed just 28 minutes a week.
The researchers also found people who undertake more exercise had less interruptions to their chemotherapy and were therefore more likely to complete the full course.
Survival rates boosted
Dr Tara Sanft, of the Yale School of Medicine and lead author, said some of the patients in the study said doing exercise was “life saving”.
“We’ve known the benefits of diet and exercise to prevent cancer for quite some time. Healthy diet and exercise after cancer can also improve survival,” she said.
“Now we want to understand if adopting a healthy diet and exercise at the point of diagnosis can help you complete your treatments easier.
“The women who adopted the guidelines and made the biggest changes in their diet and physical activity were significantly more likely to complete chemotherapy. They had fewer dose reductions and delayed [treatment].”
She added the findings suggest doctors should monitor patients’ exercise levels and encourage them to stay active.
Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said: “There is a growing body of evidence showing that exercise can be helpful before, during and after cancer treatment.
“Being physically active before and after treatment can help cancer patients cope better with treatment, aid recovery and improve mental wellbeing.”