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Important New Recommendations about Exercise for Cancer Patients

On May 7th 2018 Australia’s peak body representing health professionals who treat people with cancer, the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) released new recommendations stating that exercise should be prescribed to all cancer patients as a standard part of their care. The Australian Physiotherapy Association has endorsed the recommendations and physiotherapists were identified among the qualified and experienced practitioners who can prescribe exercise to cancer patients.

The benefits highlighted that physical activity and regular exercise can help to reverse cancer treatment side-effects, slow the progression of the disease, increase quality of life and improve the longer term chances of survival. We now have research and evidence to tell us that Cancer patients who exercise regularly experience fewer and less severe side effects from treatments. They also have a lower relative risk of cancer recurrence and a lower relative risk of dying from their cancer.

COSA discuss that if the effects of exercise could be encapsulated in a pill, it would be prescribed to every cancer patient worldwide and viewed as a major breakthrough in cancer treatment. If we had a pill called exercise it would be demanded by cancer patients, prescribed by every cancer specialist, and subsidised by government.

The plan to ensure each cancer patient receives the opportunity to exercise was published in early May in the Medical Journal of Australia. The plan is to incorporate exercise alongside surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy to help counteract the negative effects of cancer and its treatment. Currently the majority of patients with cancer currently do not meet exercise recommendations despite many expressing a desire to be sufficiently active. They need advice and ongoing support to do this. Increasingly, cancer specialists are recognising that physiotherapists provide a highly beneficial exercise treatment program that ensures the patient is participating in physical activity appropriate to their condition. New COSA recommendations state:

  • Exercise should be prescribed as a part of routine cancer care
  • Discuss exercise as an adjunct treatment for cancer
  • Prescribe exercise to all people with cancer
  • Refer all patients with cancer to an exercise professional with experience in cancer care.
  • The important new evidence-based guidelines recommend people with cancer be as physically active as their current ability and conditions allow. For significant health benefits, they should aim for:

    1. At least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise weekly (such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming)

    2. Two to three resistance exercise session each week involving moderate to vigorous intensity exercises targeting     the major muscle groups (such as weight lifting).

    These recommendations should be tailored to the individual’s abilities to minimise the risk of complications and maximise the benefits.