I want you to imagine the moment that you or a loved one was diagnosed with cancer. It’s kind of surreal, isn’t it? Like a jolt to the guts, white noise in the background and suddenly everything changes in a way you can’t describe.
What follows is a lot of directives. Things that must be done to you or for you. It’s easy to feel like you’ve lost control of your entire life as you shuttle from appointment to appointment. Experiencing fatigue, nausea, pain, depression – A few of the common side effects of treatment. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
One of the things that you can do for yourself is exercise. It’s probably the last thing you feel like. Though, over the last 15 years, a pile of research has accumulated. that shows that, beyond doubt, exercise is beneficial in the treatment of cancer. It’s been slow to become mainstream knowledge, and with previous concern that exercise may exacerbate the spread of cancer, we now know the opposite to be fact – exercise slows tumour growth!
The ABC program Catalyst did a very cool episode on how exercise impacts cancer, from how our own immune system is constantly fighting cancer cells long before diagnosis ever occurs, to the cancer suppressing effects of a single 60-minute bout of exercise (you can watch the episode HERE).
What research has established is that exercise is a safe and effective adjuvant therapy to traditional cancer treatment. The evidence is so strong that the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia released a position statement this month calling for exercise to be embedded as part of standard practice in cancer care. Those who are physically active reduce their likelihood of cancers developing and the maintenance of physical activity during and after cancer treatment is linked to better recovery and quality of life. Exercise lowers the risk of death and recurrence of cancer, as well as decreases the severity of other adverse side effects, reducing the risk of developing other comorbid conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. Not to mention the boost to self-esteem, self-efficacy and mood that comes with being active. A recent study showed that compared with patients who performed no or less exercise, patients who exercise following a diagnosis of cancer were observed to have a lower relative risk of cancer mortality and recurrence and experienced fewer severe side effects. In simple terms – if you would like less risk of developing cancer, or less chance of dying from cancer, with fewer side effects, exercise is your answer.
But how much exercise do we need to do? What type? How long for and how many times per week? What’s optimal and what’s the bare minimum to have an effect? Research in this area is ongoing, though what we do know is sufficient to have an effect on those already diagnosed with cancer. The general prescription across all cancer types, as described by Exercise and Sport Science Australia (ESSA) in their position stand is “low to moderate intensity, regular frequency (3–5 times/week) for at least 20 min per session, involving aerobic, resistance or mixed exercise types.” This will, of course, evolve as more research is done, addressing individual characteristics of both the person and the type of cancer. At the front line of delivering this information to the public, and recognised by the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia as the most appropriate professionals to do so is the Exercise Physiologists accredited with ESSA and held to stringent continuing education standards. Accredited Exercise Physiologists are able to develop and modify exercise programs to suit individual needs, taking into account co-morbidities in addition to the side effects of cancer. Additionally, Exercise Physiologists are trained to educate patients in behaviour change techniques to allow for long-term exercise behaviour.
Unfortunately, while this information is being widely disseminated by government and non-government organisations, reports show that up to 70% of people with cancer do not meet aerobic exercise guidelines, and up to 90% do not meet resistance training guidelines.
Our Exercise Physiologist Jacci has been helping people diagnosed with cancer since university. Having lived with her Grandmother after her cancer diagnosis until her death exposed her at 13 years old to the truths of cancer survivors and the stresses they face. It’s a story that has compelled much of her interest in working with cancer survivors to enrich their lives after diagnosis and empower them to exercise. Working with people in Newcastle at Transcend Health, Jacci is able to work with people to create exercise routines that work for them. She has also had the pleasure of facilitating the exercise education for the Cancer Councils ENRICHing Survivorship program in Newcastle. The next program starts in Toronto in June 2018. For more information head to www.cancercouncil.com.au/enrich
Cormie. P., Atkinson. M., Bucci. L., Cust. A., Eakin. E., Hayes. S., McCarthy. S., Murnane. A., Patchell. S. and Adams. D. (2018) Clinical Oncology Society of Australia position statement on exercise in cancer care. The Medical Journal of Australia. Published online 7/5/2018.
Cormie. P., Zopf. E. M., Zhang. X., and Schmitz. K. H. (2017). The Impact of Exercise on Cancer Mortality, Recurrence, and Treatment-Related Adverse Effects. Epidemiologic Reviews Vol. 39.
Hayes. S .C., Spence. R. R., Galvão, D. A., Newton. R. U. (2009). Australian Association for Exercise and Sport Science position stand: Optimising cancer outcomes through exercise. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 12, 428–434