Exercise should be standard in cancer therapy

Exercise is one of the best medicines for cancer care & should be part of standard practice to counteract the effects of cancer & its treatment, says Australia’s leading oncology body.

In a new position statement, the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia says patients and health professionals should discuss the role of exercise in cancer recovery.

COSA represents health professionals from all disciplines whose work involves the care of cancer patients.

The statement says evidence highlights regular exercise before, during and/or following cancer treatment decreases the severity of other adverse side effects.

The lead author of the statement, Associate Prue Cormie an Exercise Physiologist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre told the Medical Journal of Australia the evidence is now clear.

"Exercise is the best medicine people with cancer can take in addition to their cancer treatment to reverse treatment side effects, to increase quality of life and extend survival."

"They have a lower risk of their cancer coming back and they have a lower relative risk of dying from their cancer; particularly from the evidence we have relating to breast and prostate cancer."

The link between exercise and cancer recovery is being scrutinisied around the world. A study among cancer survivors showed lifting weights, but not aerobic activities, was associated with a 33% lower risk of death from any cause.

The COSA statement also says exercise may provide further protections.

“Epidemiological research suggests that being physically active provides a protective effect against cancer recurrence, cancer-specific mortality and all-cause mortality for some types of cancer (research has predominantly focused on breast, colorectal and prostate cancers).”

COSA recommends all people with cancer should progress towards and, once achieved, maintain:

  • at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g. walking, jogging, cycling, swimming) each week; and
  • two to three resistance exercise (i.e. lifting weights) sessions each week involving moderate to vigorous-intensity exercises targeting the major muscle groups
  • Exercise recommendations should be tailored to the individual’s abilities noting that specific exercise programming adaptations may be required for people with cancer based on disease and treatment-related adverse effects, anticipated disease trajectory and their health status
  • Accredited exercise physiologists and physiotherapists are the most appropriate health professionals to prescribe and deliver exercise programs to people with cancer
  • All health professionals involved in the care of people with cancer have an important role in promoting these recommendations

COSA recognises many people with cancer do not meet exercise recommendationssays but says being physically active and exercising regularly is important for the health, function, quality of life and potentially survival of people with cancer.

"Cancer patients who take their exercise medicine or perform high quality exercise actually see fewer severe treatment related side effects," says A/Prof Cormie.

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