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Exercise is 'the best medicine' and should be prescribed to every cancer patient, expert guidelines say

Old fashioned view that people with cancer should be wrapped in cotton wool harms survival if they become physically inactive, experts say

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Monday 07 May 2018 16:41 BST
‘If we could turn the benefits of exercise into a pill it would be prescribed by every cancer specialist and subsidised by government’
‘If we could turn the benefits of exercise into a pill it would be prescribed by every cancer specialist and subsidised by government’ (Shutterstock)

Exercise “is the best medicine” and should be prescribed to all cancer patients to slow the disease’s progression and improve chances of survival, according to the first guidance of its sort anywhere in the world.

Withdrawing from exercise after a diagnosis or while undergoing treatment actively harms cancer patients’ chances of survival, the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (Cosa) said.

In the first evidence-backed position statement of its kind, more than 20 organisations involved in cancer care and exercise call for physical activity to be built into every treatment plan.

“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, said Professor Prue Cormie, chair of the Cosa Exercise and Cancer Care Group.

“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 reverse treatment related side-effects, slow the progression of their cancer, increase quality of life and improve the chances of survival.”

This should be supported by specialist physiotherapists and physiologists who understand the demands of cancer treatment and can help patients adapt their exercise plans.

Doctors say the guidance is a step on from an outdated view that patients should be “wrapped in cotton wool”, and this has to change to give patients the best chances.

One early advocate of the combined regime of chemotherapy and exercise is Nicole Cooper, 33, who was diagnosed with incurable Stage four bowel cancer last year and said the impact of exercise had been life-changing.

“When I received a terminal cancer diagnosis, I was prescribed two potentially lifesaving cancer treatments: chemotherapy and exercise,” said Ms Cooper.

“A year later, I am in remission, having taken just as much exercise as I have chemotherapy.”

The position statement said: “All people with cancer should avoid inactivity and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible following diagnosis.”

It adds that every person with cancer should continue to hit the same activity targets that are recommended by the NHS and other national health services, including “at least” 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week.

They should also have two to three sessions of weight lifting or weight bearing exercise targeting the major muscle groups each week.

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