Exercise regime developed by QUB will aid post-op recovery of pancreatic cancer patients
Pancreatic cancer patients in Northern Ireland will the first in the UK to take part in an exercise programme aimed at aiding their recovery, developed by Queen's University.
A £100k grant from Pancreatic Cancer UK's Research Innovation Fund will see patients here trial the new programme as part of a research project being undertaken at the university.
The charity insists that, if successful, the project has significant potential to improve the quality of life for patients who have surgery.
Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all the common cancers, with less than 7% of people with the disease in Northern Ireland living for five years.
Surgery is the only cure and involves removing all or part of the pancreas and making major changes to the digestive system, meaning that patients can experience serious side-effects - including pain, fatigue and anxiety - in addition to the effects of chemotherapy.
Tom Hawthorne, from Dromore in Co Down, has credited cycling with helping him overcome the side-effects of his operation after he was diagnosed in August 2017.
The 61-year-old said: "For me, the operation was totally devastating - it was really tough, physically and psychologically.
"From my first day out of intensive care I was determined to give it my best shot after speaking to my surgeon."
He stressed his efforts began post-surgery in hospital.
"From blowing that little pipe to keep the ball up, to family helping me around the corridors and friends helping me to the park, it all helped me so much," he explained.
"Then eventually getting back on my bike. All this for me made me so much stronger in every way and had a massive impact on my recovery.
"Not everyone can do it, but it's well worth doing your best. You will feel the benefit."
Researchers will work with local pancreatic cancer patients who have had surgery to design bespoke exercise programmes tailored to each individual's symptoms.
Exercise has previously been shown to benefit patients with other cancers, such as breast and prostate, but the two-year study by Queen's University will be the first time it has been trialled with those treated for pancreatic cancer.
Patients will be supported in resistance and aerobic exercise, alongside post-operative chemotherapy.
It is hoped that a successful trial in Belfast will see the project expand to other sites in the UK, benefiting more patients.
Dr Gillian Prue, lead researcher at Queen's School of Nursing and Midwifery, welcomed the grant as a "fantastic opportunity" for pancreatic patients here.
"We hope that by undertaking a supervised exercise programme during chemotherapy, patients may avoid an almost inevitable decline in function," she said.
"Increasing activity levels may help patients tolerate chemotherapy treatment and reduce treatment side-effects."