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Exercise - the new cancer drug

Updated: Mar 28, 2020

Doctors are starting to prescribe exercise to people with cancer just like they would a drug, amid growing research it improves tolerance of treatments such as chemotherapy, and therefore improves the chance of survival.

Couldn't resist sharing with you this article, by Julia Medew in the May 9 issue of The Age Digital Edition.

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While exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are already thought to prevent certain cancers, particularly breast and bowel, there is a growing feeling among doctors that regular vigorous activity also protects people during cancer treatment and might even prevent more cancer in future. For many years, cancer patients have been advised to avoid exercise in favour of rest, particularly during treatments such as chemotherapy, but emerging studies suggest exercise improves ability to cope with the side effects of treatments, which in turn boosts their capacity to take a full dose. An anaesthetist at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Hilmy Ismail, said a study at his hospital showed a six-week exercise program for people between chemo/radiation therapy and surgery boosted their cardio-respiratory fitness and recovery from surgery. He said during 18 months, his team performed tests on patients’ heart and lung function after chemo-radiation therapy and found it caused a 10-20 per cent deterioration in their fitness. When these patients were given a six week exercise program, there was an average 18 per cent improvement in that time. This meant they not only recovered fitness lost during previous cancer treatment, but many went into surgery even fitter than before their treatment began. This reduced their risk of complications.   

While some patients do not respond well to fitness training, Dr Ismail said most people were motivated to try it and experienced the benefits of it. Professor of Exercise Science at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Daniel Galvao, told the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ annual scientific congress this week that although it might seem difficult to exercise during cancer treatment, research showed the more sedentary someone is, the more fatigued they become. Professor Galvao said that several observational studies suggested that women with breast cancer who did three to five hours of moderate exercise a week, such as brisk walking, have a reduced chance of death. He said exercise could also improve people’s ability to manage the side effects of hormone therapies for breast and prostate cancer that can result in an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. There are also psychological benefits,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s extremely powerful.’’ Julia Medew travelled to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ annual scientific congress courtesy of the college. Copyright © 2015 The Age

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