Exercise should be 'standard part of cancer care'


Professor Robert Thomas: "You can reduce the chances of cancer coming back if you continue to exercise"

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All patients getting cancer treatment should be told to do two and a half hours of physical exercise every week, says a report by Macmillan Cancer Support.

Being advised to rest and take it easy after treatment is an outdated view, the charity says.

Research shows that exercise can reduce the risk of dying from cancer and minimise the side effects of treatment.

The Department of Health says local initiatives can get people moving.

Macmillan's report, Move More, says that of the two million cancer survivors in the UK, around 1.6 million are not physically active enough.

Adult cancer patients and cancer survivors should undertake 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week, the reports says, which is what the Department of Health guidelines recommend.

In the report, the American College of Sports Medicine also recommends that exercise is safe during and after most types of cancer treatment and says survivors should avoid inactivity.

Start Quote

It doesn't need to be anything too strenuous, doing the gardening, going for a brisk walk or a swim, all count”

End Quote Ciaran Devane Macmillan Cancer Support

Getting active, the report says, can help people overcome the effects of cancer and its treatments, such as fatigue and weight gain.

"The evidence review shows that physical exercise does not increase fatigue during treatment, and can in fact boost energy after treatment."

"It can also lower their chances of getting heart disease and osteoporosis.

"Also, doing recommended levels of physical activity may reduce the chance of dying from the disease. It may also help reduce the risk of the cancer coming back."

Previous research shows that exercising to the recommended levels can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurring by 40%. For prostate cancer the risk of dying from the disease is reduced by up to 30%.

Bowel cancer patients' risk of dying from the disease can be cut by around 50% by doing around six hours of moderate physical activity a week.

Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said physical activity was very important to the survival and recovery process.

Woman jogging Keeping active after treatment for cancer is now recommended by cancer experts

"Cancer patients would be shocked if they knew just how much of a benefit physical activity could have on their recovery and long term health, in some cases reducing their chances of having to go through the gruelling ordeal of treatment all over again.

"It doesn't need to be anything too strenuous, doing the gardening, going for a brisk walk or a swim, all count."

Traditionally cancer patients were told to rest after their cancer treatment, but the report says this approach could put cancer patients at risk.

Jane Maher, chief medical officer of Macmillan Cancer Support and a leading clinical oncologist said: "The advice that I would have previously given to one of my patients would have been to 'take it easy'.

"This has now changed significantly because of the recognition that if physical exercise were a drug, it would be hitting the headlines."

Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK, was a little more cautious.

"Anything that improves wellbeing and reduces treatment side effects for cancer survivors has to be a good thing.

"But the evidence that exercise has a bearing on survival is not conclusive. It is important to remember that no two cancer patients are the same, so rehabilitation programmes that include physical activity will need to be tailored to the individual."

A spokesperson from the Department of Health said it was vital that people with cancer are given the support to lead an active life.

"Physical activity and a healthy lifestyle can impact very positively on cancer outcomes and, as part of the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative, we are working with Macmillan to integrate physical activity services into cancer care pilot sites.

"Locally led initiatives such as Let's Get Moving are also well placed to signpost cancer patients to community-based physical activity opportunities."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Although important, exercise on its own is probably not enough and should go hand in hand with a healthy diet. The scientific evidence indicates that exercise helps prevent breast cancer, at least in part, by lowering insulin levels in the body. Since eating sugary foods raises insulin levels, a poor diet may undo any of the benefits achieved by more exercise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I do have some issues with this report. Im currently undergoing aggressive chemotherapy for BC doing exercise of "moderate" intensity doesn't fit with how I feel the idea of gardening or swimming seem to be two very different ends of the spectrum to me. Issues lie around the different chemotherapy courses prescribed, this report makes wide sweeping generalisations not suitable to individuals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    shrugs Peter please stop rubbishing a massivily vialble treatment becuase your not up to date with stuff.
    please check out reading unis cannabinoid department. its dedicated to diet and obecitity eating dissorders...

  • Comment number 43.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    During my chemotherapy and radiotherapy for treatment of Hodgkins Disease I continued to go to the gym for 1-2 hours, 3-4 times a week. I can honestly say that this helped me through my treatment and generally I felt an improvement in wellbeing after exercise. I would rest the day and the day after chemotherapy but I would then return to work and fulfill as much of a "normal life" as possible!

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Over the last year I have developed a DVD and booklet to give to all patients diagnosed with cancer. I did this with the help of a consultant and fellow physiotherapist. I myself had cancer 14 years ago and so I do know what it's like to have chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Yes, you do feel exhausted but even a little exercise can make you feel less fatigued, more motivated and optimistic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Sophsky @39 - the media, have convinced Joe Public that any and every social problem - food shortages, climate change, the economic crisis, every disease and condition known to humanity - can be blamed on 'the obese'. Thin people on the other hand are all morally wonderful human beings. When you're told 100 times daily you embody all that's wrong with the world you either internalise it or rebel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Souterjane - you have clearly missed the point, they're saying keeping active helps with treatment in a medical way, due to the substances the body releases upon doing exercise. Not that cancer is just because people are fat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I really do abhor the way morality and health have become intertwined in the current discourse. The evidence is all over this thread in the form of petty judgmentalism and finger-pointing. More worryingly, the medical profession have bought into it too. Explain to me why all but one of those I've known to develop cancer have been THIN - by current wisdom, aren't skinnies meant to live forever?

  • Comment number 37.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    17.Peter_Sym "staying fit increases your chance of survival"

    'Fit' maybe, but 'thin' is open to debate. Studies of 'obese' patients found that they had much better recovery / survival rates from a wide range of conditions (inc.cancer) due to having reserves to draw upon. It's known as 'the obesity paradox' though to me it's common sense; there are sound evolutionary reasons why we lay down fat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    My Uncle Lived in New Zealand until his death from Cancer ,as part of his treatment he was given Gym membership ,I agree that not everyone is up to exercise after having there treatment ,but it seemed to help him ,one of the most important things when fighting cancer is to believe you can beat it ,but the goverment needs to put more in place for Cancer patients that helps them

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Not everything can be solved with salad and jogging, whatever a weight-obsessed medical profession claim. This growing trend of 'blame the patient', which I suspect has its roots in labelling sick people as 'deserving' or 'undeserving' to justify the coming rationing of care on moral grounds, is the reason I refuse to support the big corporate heart and cancer charities which espouse it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    exercise and a positive attitude to life are must haves to get through what are tough times. starting off with exercising in a chair and building yourself up is one way it can be done I don't think anyone is saying that we should be running a marathon.
    there are people out there who can help but it takes a good bit of digging. as usual our politicians cannot see past the end of their noses Sid

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    #30 There's no such thing as incurable cancer (although sadly several present so late that the odds aren't good: pancreatic for instance). In kids Leaukemia is highly treatable, in adults its not so good but 5 year survival is still over 40%. Precisely because its a chronic disease a patient has to do everything they can to stay healthy so light exercise seems smart advice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I have recently finished chemotherapy and radiotherapy and I absolutely agree with saying you should exercise. Yes, the treatment and trying to do everyday things is hard work and exhausting, I made myself go out for a walk of at least 45 minutes almost every day (even when I felt dreadful and had to drag myself round) I would certainly say it has paid off and helped me to cope with the treatment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Can I make a plea for all Leukeamia and related bone marrow cancers that they are included in cancer stories as there is always reference to operative and 'curable' cancers and never any mention of those of for whom there is no 'fix'

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The way things are, UK/USA/EUR are less able to afford our massive healthcare costs.
    Those provided with treatments should be more responsible. I see little point in providing expensive treatments to those who refuse to work hard at recovery and progression of improvement of damaging lifestyles.

    Effort can be painful & no pain = no gain.

    Not all can do, but MANY can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    #25 Of course radiotherapy is terminal 'if not used correctly'. So is surgery! Your post #26 is just a pack of nonsense. Your appetite is not governed by cannaboids and your immune system certainly isn't (I'm a cancer immunologist BTW) . Excercise builds up muscle and improves fitness levels. Thats why its beneficial. Popping a pill isn't a substitute.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    6.Mrs Vee
    Comment number 6 is an Editors' Pick
    2 Hours ago
    Am I the only one who is sick to death of this constant stream of 'advice'?

    Whys that, do you generally ignore sound advise, because you do not like that it means you have to make effort.

    Too many people demand a right to expensive treatments & then neglect their their OWN responsibility in following through.


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