Friday, September 25, 2020
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Patients with Cancer Who Exercise Feel Better

Common side effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea, vomiting, alopecia, fatigue, constipation/diarrhea, cardiovascular suppression, bone marrow suppression, muscle weakness, pain, mucositis, sleep disturbances, peripheral neuropathy, anxiety and depression, can often be more devastating on patients physically and psychologically than the disease itself. 

To help patients with cancer maintain their quality of life and reduce the risk of these and other complications that may occur as a result of surgery, chemotherapy or radiation, a study in The Journal of Palliative Care and Medicinesuggests that exercise can help minimize suffering.[1]

What did the study find?

The retrospective study involved a total of 1400 men and women between 40 and 79 years of age who received treatment at Kettering Medical Center in Dayton, Ohio between January and December 2016. Patients were divided into one of two groups: those who did not exercise — the SED group — and the EX group, those who participated in an exercise program at Maple Tree Cancer Alliance, which provides free exercise oncology to patients with cancer in its eight centers in Ohio and Pittsburgh, PA region. The organization provides patients undergoing cancer treatment with a phased, individualized system of exercise. 

Compared to the SED group, which numbered 728, the 672 subjects in the EX group experienced improved muscular strength and flexibility, and reduced fatigue, anxiety, pain, and depression. With increased exercise, the EX group experienced fewer side effects to chemotherapy too. “It is worth noting that those in the EX group tolerated their treatment significantly better than the SED group, and [the number of] those who were tolerating their treatment poorly was significantly higher in the SED group,” the author wrote.
The study also found that exercise saved patients money and reduced healthcare costs. Patients in the EX group had significantly lower out-of-pocket costs, significantly fewer ER visits, as well as shorter length of stay than the SED group.

What can healthcare providers do?

If your health network offers oncology rehabilitation services, encourage patients with cancer to take advantage of them. As contradictory as it sounds, exercising safely can be a powerful prescription to help patients with cancer take control of their physical wellbeing during treatment and recovery. “Nationally, only two percent of patients are referred to oncology rehabilitation services,” the author wrote. This gap in care must be addressed.” 

Last updated on 9/25/19.

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