More and more research is now focusing on the medical benefits exercise can have on patients pre, during and post cancer treatment.
A study presented this year from Yale Cancer Centre in the US found that those who are physically active during and post treatment can double their chances of survival. Monitoring 5000 breast cancer patients, they found that those who completed at least 25 mins of brisk walking of day decreased their rate of mortality by 46%. A weight loss of only 5% in survivors also found a 20% increase in the chance of survival.
For the guys, exercise is also crucial in patients with prostate cancer. During treatment, patients can lose up to 25% of their body weight, which equates to a 75% loss in muscle mass. The strong hormone replacement therapies reduce testosterone production, therefore reducing muscle mass. The only current treatment to regain this is through resistance exercise which is safe to complete during treatment.
Cachexia (loss of muscle mass) is so damaging because:
Muscle mass is our bodies main form of metabolism – losing muscle mass from treatment can lead to increase in body fat
Increased fat gain can then to other co morbidities such as obesity and chronic diseases (Type II Diabetes)
Patients will develop a loss of strength for everyday activities – leading to greater fatigue
Is it OK for patients to exercise during treatment though? Yes, as long as exercise is tailored to the appropriate level and gradually increased, exercise is now highly recommended now during treatment (ECU in Perth has established an Exercise and Cancer Clinic in an oncology department – some patients exercise on the same day as their treatment). The hypothesis is that an increase in blood flow in exercise will help transport treatment to the tumour cells which are poor in blood supply. Even if fatigue levels are high, exercise will not exacerbate this and in the long term actually lower fatigue levels compared to non-exercisers in treatment (confirmed in a Cochrane review in 2012).
Breast cancer patients who walked for 25mins a day at a brisk pace doubled their chance of survival
Prostate cancer patients will often lose muscle mass with treatment, resistance exercise is best to regain this muscle mass again
Exercise is safe during treatment as current studies have shown, with significant lower levels of fatigue in those who exercise regularly
By Luke Dorizas, Accredited Exercise Physiologist AEP ESSAM ASCA Level 1