exercise in cancer care

Worldwide call for all cancer patients to be prescribed exercise

The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) has released a position statement on ‘Exercise in Cancer Care’. Highlighted in an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia, it is the first position statement worldwide to call for exercise to be an essential component of cancer treatment.

The AGITG is a supporting organisation of the position statement, which calls for exercise to be prescribed as part of routine cancer care. It says that all health professionals treating cancer patients should also refer patients to an accredited exercise physiologist and/or physiotherapist with experience in cancer care.

Associate Professor Prue Cormie, Chair of the COSA Exercise and Cancer Care Group and lead author of the statement, said, “Evidence suggests that withholding exercise from people with cancer is harmful.”

“Based on what the science tells us, exercise is the best medicine people with cancer can take, in addition to their cancer treatments, to reduce treatment related side-effects, slow the progression of their cancer, increase quality of life and improve the chances of survival.”


How much should cancer patients exercise?

COSA’s position statement makes it clear that cancer patients should avoid inactivity as much as possible. It recommends that all people with cancer should progress towards and then aim to maintain:

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g. walking, jogging, cycling, swimming) each week; and
  • Two to three resistance exercise (i.e. lifting weights) sessions each week involving moderate to vigorous-intensity exercises targeting the major muscle groups

“The notion that we must protect a patient, wrap them in cotton wool, is old fashioned and not supported by the research,” says David Speakman, Chief Medical Officer at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. “Our attitudes to treating cancer – what it takes to give them their best chance at survival – have to change.”


What are the benefits of exercise as a treatment?

Exercise has been established by clinical research as a safe and effective intervention that counteracts many of the adverse physical and psychological effects of cancer and its treatment. It helps patients to tolerate aggressive treatments, minimise the physical declines caused by cancer, counteract cancer-related fatigue, relieve mental distress and improve quality of life.

In an article in The Conversation, Associate Professor Cormie noted that cancer patients who exercise regularly experience fewer and less severe side effects from treatments, have a lower relative risk of cancer recurrence and a lower relative risk of dying of cancer.

“If we could turn the benefits of exercise into a pill it would be demanded by patients, prescribed by every cancer specialist and subsidised by government – it would be seen as a major breakthrough in cancer treatment,” says Associate Professor Cormie. “Exercise is a medicine that works alongside mainstream treatment to help those affected by cancer feel better and increases their chances of survival.”

Read the position statement here.