Cancer, the illness that has made itself a norm in our society. However, with the advancement of medicine, we hear the triumphant stories of survivors more and more. Which is fantastic news!
So, what happens next?
After the battle against cancer, the road to full recovery still takes time. Survivors will often find that there is difficulty returning to day to day activities. This is commonly due to:
- loss of muscle strength
Health professionals are now seeking ways to help improve the quality of life of these survivors.
From a physiotherapist point of view, exercise and rehabilitation have been proven to be effective in getting survivors back to their daily activities.
“The evidence also shows there is little risk of exercise causing harm if care is taken and professional exercise advice is followed closely. For some cancers, exercise may even improve treatment outcomes” – Cancer Council
People with cancer should exercise as much as they are able to. Not all days will be easy, but even a short walk will be better than no exercise at all.
The benefits of exercising includes:
- strengthen muscles and bones
- help cope with stress/anxiety
- help maintain a healthy weight
- improve blood circulation
- improve mobility
Specifically, exercises that increase your heart rate like swimming, cycling or brisk walking can help:
- improve stamina
- strengthen the heart to pump blood throughout the body more efficiently
- helps reduce the feeling of breathlessness during day to day activities
Exercises like Clinical Pilates and weights/resistance training will also:
- strengthen muscles/bones
- increase muscle tone
- improve balance & control
- improve body/muscle awareness
Soon enough getting out of bed and walking up a hill will not be difficult after all!
Studies have shown that exercise and physiotherapy have a positive effect on breast cancer survivors with decreased shoulder range of movement.
Exercise training involving weights and resistance also helps with decreasing the frequency of exacerbations of lymphedema. Lymphedema is a condition of fluid retention and swelling due to a compromised lymphatic system. This is common in breast cancer survivors because some lymph nodes under the arms are required to be removed as cancer may have spread to that region of the body.
Another study shows that monitored exercise can help reduce fatigue in colon cancer survivors that are receiving ongoing chemotherapy.
Participants have shown a decrease in physical fatigue after 18 weeks and a decrease in general fatigue at 36 weeks of supervised exercise compared to those who underwent chemotherapy alone. The exercise program consisted of hour-long sessions, twice per week of strength training and exercises that increases heart rate.
There is a saying that if the benefits of exercise can be made into a pill, everyone would be asking for it.
So why not discus with your consulting doctor if a exercise should be something incorporated into your care plan and get started!
Dittus KL, Lakoski SG, Savage PD, Kokinda N, Toth M, Stevens D, et al. Exercise-Based Oncology Rehabilitation: Leveraging the Cardiac Rehabilitation Model. Journal of cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and prevention. 2015;35(2):130-9.
Lauridsen MC, Christiansen P, Hessov I. The effect of physiotherapy on shoulder function in patients surgically treated for breast cancer: A randomized study. Acta Oncologica. 2005;44(5):449-57.
Van Vulpen JK, Velthuis MJ, Steins Bisschop CN, Travier N, Van Den Buijs BJW, Backx FJG, et al. Effects of an Exercise Program in Colon Cancer Patients undergoing Chemotherapy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016;48(5):767-75.