Exercise key for cancer survivors

Doctors should prescribe it more often
  • Deborah Condon

Doctors need to become more proactive about prescribing exercise to survivors of cancer, it has been claimed.

Major advances in diagnosis and treatment mean that an increasing number of people now survive cancer. Currently in Ireland, there are more than 150,000 cancer survivors, while in the US, there are over 15 million.

According to doctors at the Department of Medical Oncology at University Hospital Galway (UHG), increased physical activity among survivors "can result in profound measurable impacts" on both physical and psychological wellbeing.

"Previous studies have demonstrated a positive impact in cardiorespiratory fitness, cancer-related fatigue, quality of life and even overall survival. This survival advantage has particularly been reported for breast and colon cancer patients," the doctors said.

However despite this, physicians in Ireland "remain reluctant to prescribe exercise for these patients". Instead, many physicians encourage rest.

It is estimated that less than 10% of cancer survivors are active during treatments and only 20-30% are active after treatments.

"This reluctance to refer their patients to exercise programmes is based on a lack of knowledge of the existing data and guidelines, limited instruction with regards to the types of exercise they should be doing and concerns about patient safety and their ability to tolerate such programmes," the UHG doctors said.

They pointed out that international guidelines "now clearly recommend counselling these patients with regard to the benefits of physical activity and also encouraging other healthy lifestyle changes".

"As such, it is imperative for treating physicians to be aware of the impact of these changes and these lifestyle modifications must now become a priority for cancer survivors," they insisted.

The doctors noted that the benefits of exercise for the general population are well established "and we believe this now should be incorporated into the care of cancer survivors, as recommended by international guidelines".

"In the future, we may well be prescribing exercise for all patients in addition to their standard therapy or surveillance plans. For now however, it is imperative that we at least raise awareness and discuss exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle plan, particularly for cancer survivors. Such conversations should empower patients, enhance wellness and may even improve survival," they concluded.

The UHG doctors made their comments in the Irish Medical Journal.


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