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Cancer Patients May Benefit from Moderate Exercise

According to new national guidelines, cancer patients should find ways to exercise weekly both during and after treatment.

According to new national guidelines, cancer patients should find ways to exercise weekly both during and after treatment.

The guidelines were set to be presented at the 2010 meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology by Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, MPH. If they are well-received, cancer exercise rehabilitation programs may become common, according to a news release from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Schmitz led a panel of 13 American College of Sports Medicine members to develop the recommendations. The team came up with the new guidelines after reviewing literature on the safety and efficacy of exercise training during and after cancer therapy.

“We have to get doctors past the ideas that exercise is harmful to their cancer patients. There is a still a prevailing attitude out there that patients shouldn’t push themselves during treatment, but our message -- avoid inactivity — is essential,” Schmitz said, in a news release. “We now have a compelling body of high quality evidence that exercise during and after treatment is safe and beneficial for these patients, even those undergoing complex procedures such as stem cell transplants. If physicians want to avoid doing harm, they need to incorporate these guidelines into their clinical practice in a systematic way.”

The panel recommends that these patients should try to incorporate 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week. However, the exercises should be tailored to individual patients and physicians should take into account the general fitness level, specific diagnosis, and disease factors that may influence exercise safety.

The guidelines also indicated that patients who have gained weight due to treatment, including patients with horomone-based tumors, breast and prostate cancers, or those who have lost weight, including those with gastrointestinal tumors, who have lost their appetite and experienced changes in ability to swallow food, may both benefit from exercise.

Those who have gained weight due to treatment can experience a reduction in body mass from moderate exercise. Studies have shown such physical activity may actually reduce the risk of recurrence for breast cancer patients and ultimately decrease breast cancer mortality.

Those suffering from cancer-related weight loss may benefit from exercise by maintaining lean body mass, which increases strength and well-being.

The team analyzed published studies related to five adult cancer types (breast, prostate, hematologic, colon, and gynecologic) and reviewed the evidence for multiple health outcomes.