Keeping active can help aid recovery after cancer treatment
It may sound strange, perhaps unkind, to suggest that people with cancer should exercise, but being active can help reduce the side effects of treatment and improve recovery. A report from Macmillan Cancer Support has shown that not enough cancer patients get this message from their health experts.
In a YouGov poll of 1,098 cancer patients aged 18 to 88 carried out for the charity, two in five said they are not currently active at all – potentially putting their recovery at risk. Of those polled, 417 patients had finished their treatment within the last two years. Of these, 82 percent said that their GP had not spoken to them about the importance of being physically active during or after treatment. Just over three quarters said the same about their oncologist, and 79 percent about clinical nurse specialists.
In theory, we all know that exercise is good for our health. It’s a message we may not like much, or pay much attention to, but most of us must have seen it, especially with the Olympics upon us. Sport and exercise are in the headlines daily.
However, when you look at the latest statistics, it’s obvious that we don’t take a lot of notice. The recommendation from the Chief Medical Officers of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, in the report Start Active, Stay Active, was that adults should have 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. The annual Health Survey for England (HSE) for 2009 showed that 94 percent of men and 96 percent of women don’t achieve that.
And this new survey follows a 2011 report from Macmillan Cancer Support called Move More which showed the extent to which exercise benefits people living with cancer. Among the main findings were:
- People with bowel, breast and prostate cancer could reduce their risk of recurrence or dying from their disease by up to 50, 40 and 30 percent respectively by doing recommended levels of physical activity.
- After treatment all cancer patients can reduce their risk of getting side effects of cancer and its treatment by doing recommended levels of physical activity. These side effects include fatigue, depression, osteoporosis and heart disease.
This report had a lot of publicity at the time, and the charity hoped that the message would reach far more cancer patients as a result.
Jane Maher, Chief Medical Officer of Macmillan Cancer Support and leading clinical oncologist, said “As a cancer specialist it’s hard to encourage people to think about fitness during and after gruelling cancer treatment. It’s easier to tell people to rest.
“But increasingly, many patients will need our help to bust the myth that resting up is always the right thing to do, so they do not miss out on the ‘wonder drug’ of exercise, which can make all the difference to recovery.”
“The key is to keep moving”
Ian Rigby, 60, from Surrey, had treatment for rectal and liver cancer, but at no point was he told about the benefits that keeping active could have for him. “I had people saying to me to be positive, but it was frustrating – I wanted to know how I could create a positive attitude, what I could do practically to improve my chances of beating cancer,” says Ian.
“Throughout my treatment I just decided to try and walk whenever I could, even if it was only a little. Small targets: like putting one foot in front of the other, walking 10 yards, climbing a flight of stairs. At first I could only walk 100 yards and would have to stop, but each day you can do a little more. Gradually I started to feel better. The key is to keep moving.”
Ciarán Devance, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, says: “This new survey shows that the message is still not being passed on to cancer patients about just how important it is for them to keep active. We know that people going through gruelling cancer treatment tend to feel out of control and it can be a very frightening time. Knowing what you can do to help yourself and your recovery is both encouraging and helpful.”
Macmillan Cancer Support