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Experts recommend exercise prescription for cancer sufferers

Working out has been seen as a way patients can cope with treatment side-effects.

Exercise has been shown to improve survival rates for those who have been through cancer (Ben Birchall/PA)
Exercise has been shown to improve survival rates for those who have been through cancer (Ben Birchall/PA)

By Conor Riordan, PA Scotland

Experts have called for systematic use of an “exercise prescription” to help cancer patients cope with treatment side-effects.

A global panel reviewed evidence and then gave guidance about the benefits of working out for prevention, treatment, recovery and improved survival.

It set out a number of recommendations including that survivors incorporate exercise to help improve survival after a diagnosis of breast, colon and prostate cancer.

Gary MacDougall was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April 2018 and took part in a programme based on exercising during cancer treatment.

The 48-year-old of Edinburgh said: “Exercise allowed me to physically push myself, but mentally to take a break from the worry. Some days I only did 10 minutes and was shattered, but others I could do more and did.

“Incredibly, during my first six chemotherapy sessions I became stronger and fitter.

“A huge part of the battle was taking my bike with me into the chemotherapy ward.

“The staff in the Western General (hospital in Edinburgh) were so supportive, the other patients bemused at the ‘eejit’ turning up on his bike every time.

“Whether it was chemotherapy, fitness, diet or just ‘hope’ – I believe they all played a part – the doctors were exceptionally surprised my tumour shrunk enough in those first six chemotherapy sessions and gave me the chance to have surgery.

“That operation was a year ago and after six further chemotherapy sessions I am still here, and my cancer markers are looking good.”

The take-home message is that it’s time to ensure that staying active post-cancer diagnosis is a standard part of a cancer care package. Anna Campbell

Organisations on the international panel include the American Cancer Society, the US-based National Cancer Institute, the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology, Macmillan Cancer Support and the German Union for Health Exercise.

Edinburgh Napier University’s Anna Campbell has been working in the area of exercise and cancer survivorship for 20 years.

She has been particularly focused on the implementation of exercise programmes, including the one undertaken by Mr MacDougall, after a cancer diagnosis.

Prof Campbell said: “These updated recommendations are designed to convince clinicians to refer and to help cancer patients to incorporate physical activity into their recuperation.

“These papers demonstrate how much the area of exercise oncology has developed over the past five years in terms of the strength of evidence of the benefits of staying active after a cancer diagnosis, more clarity on specific guidelines and finally how to put a referral pathway and implementation of programmes into practice.

“The take-home message is that it’s time to ensure that staying active post-cancer diagnosis is a standard part of a cancer care package.”

PA

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