When people are diagnosed with cancer, they are often faced with challenging treatment decisions: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or more recently, pricey immunotherapy. Now, researchers are suggesting an additional approach: EXERCISE! The trouble is that most cancer treatment programs do not include exercise as part of their protocol. Insurance companies are not likely to pay for this crucial adjunct to standard therapies.
Moving Through Cancer!
Experts in the field of exercise oncology recently published a call to action titled “Exercise is medicine in oncology: Engaging clinicians to help patients move through cancer” (CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, Oct. 16, 2019). They point out that exercise may lower the risk for developing cancer. Perhaps even more important, exercise can enhance cancer treatment, improve recovery and potentially prolong survival.
The exercise recommendations are from experts representing prestigious organizations, including the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society as well as major universities from around the world. They relied on solid scientific evidence to promote their perspective on exercise as medicine.
Another study reports that there is strong evidence that physical activity can lower the risk of developing colon, breast, kidney, bladder, endometrial, esophageal and stomach cancer (Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, November, 2019). People who exercise also have lower rates of a number of other cancers, including those of the liver and the lung. Prevention is always the best medicine!
During and after cancer treatment, exercise can ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Patients also report less fatigue, improved physical functioning and better overall quality of life outcomes.
The authors note that exercise during and after therapy for prostate, breast and colorectal cancer may enhance treatment and improve survival statistics.
The authors make the following key points:
“First, physical activity is beneficial for the prevention of a number of different types of cancer including breast, colon, endometrial, kidney, bladder, esophageal, and stomach. Decreasing time spent sedentary may also lower the risk of some types of cancer, including endometrial, colon, and lung cancers. Second, physical activity prediagnosis and postdiagnosis of breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer is beneficial for survival outcomes. Postdiagnosis physical activity seems to exert greater effect on cancer outcomes compared with prediagnosis physical activity.”
In other words, exercise can prevent many cancers. After cancer treatment, exercise can boost the odds of living longer.
When my best friend, Dr. Tom Ferguson, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, he was treated at one of the best cancer centers in the United States. The doctors recommended a bone marrow transplant. This is about as tough a cancer treatment as you can get. It gets very close to killing patients with chemotherapy before resurrecting them.
Dr. Tom had done his homework. He knew that exercise was good medicine. He brought his stationary bicycle to the hospital and situated it in his room. Some of the health professionals were a bit puzzled by his dedication to exercise. Dr. Tom continued to exercise during his treatment and recovery. He did really well.
Sadly, Dr. Tom did die from his blood cancer, but he outlived prognostic predictions by many years. I am convinced that his exercise routine contributed to his improved survival and the quality of his life.
Learn how another physician stood up for himself when he was diagnosed with cancer. He combined allopathic and Ayurvedic healing strategies.
A Message for Oncologists, Cancer Clinics, Health Administrators and Insurance Companies:
Perhaps it is time for oncologists and cancer centers to integrate exercise plans into their treatment programs. Doctors and cancer centers focus on lab work, scans, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and immunotherapy. All these approaches are crucial and expensive. Insurance companies and patients pay huge amounts of money for these life-saving services. Many cancer treatment strategies cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The authors of the Exercise Is Medicine report encourage the full development of an exercise oncology workforce. Their call to action urges cancer clinicians, researchers, policy makers, patients and the healthcare industry to embrace exercise along with traditional treatments.
That means every cancer center would have well-trained exercise physiologists on staff who could tailor an exercise program for individual patients. There would be trainers and support staff along with equipment in the clinic or hospital where people could come for regular physical activity.
Group support from other patients would be essential to reinforce the value of exercise. We envision sessions designed for breast and prostate cancer survivors along with classes for many other common cancers. If we can have cardiac rehab programs, why not cancer rehab programs? Insurance companies and employers should pay for such exercise support, just the way they pay for lab work, scans or chemotherapy. In summary, compared to standard cancer treatment, exercise is a huge bargain!
Let’s encourage modern medicine to integrate exercise into all cancer treatment programs, from diagnosis through treatment and durable remissions!
Share your thoughts about exercise and cancer treatment. If you have been treated for cancer did your clinicians or your cancer center encourage exercise? Were you provided free access to an exercise program or gym? Would you like such services, especially if they were tailored to your personal situation?