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Exercise as a New Prescription for the Cancer Patient

During my chemotherapy experience, I suffered incapacitating fatigue which required me to take a leave of absence from my nursing position. I was devastated. Not only had cancer disrupted my life, now I could no longer work. My oncologist and I explored possible strategies to deal with the fatigue but there was really nothing to do. Upon completion of my chemotherapy, I read about a new exercise program in my community. I decided to give it a try and was amazed as to the effects on my fatigue and overall well-being.

The benefits of exercising

I am delighted to share this recent recommendation from the American College of Sports Medicine, an updated exercise guideline for cancer prevention and cancer-related outcomes such as fatigue, anxiety, and quality of life.

Based on recent research, it reported that exercise can reduce the incidence of certain cancers and exercise is associated with reduced anxiety, depression, and improved quality of life for the cancer patient.1

The evidence suggests that exercise be part of the standard treatment for most people with cancer and also a means to reduce the risk of developing cancer in the first place.

Research confirms that exercising can help you not just survive, but thrive during and after cancer treatment. It is suggested that exercise may change the trajectory of cancer once it has begun. The effects may be due to changes in the tumor microenvironment that triggers stronger antitumor activity in your immune system.2

The new recommendation is that clinicians advise and refer patients to either home-based or community-based exercise for at least three times a week.

Step 1 - Assess

What is the current activity of the patient? The patient needs to understand that increased activity can help manage fatigue and poor physical functioning.

Step 2 - Advise

Stress the importance of gradually increasing the activity.

Step 3 - Refer

Recommend an exercise program based on the patient’s activity level, medical status, and preference.

Exercise whether aerobic or resistance can build strength, fight fatigue, and lift spirits. The aim is to exercise at least three times a week. According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, exercise is the top approach to cancer-related fatigue.

Conciderations for blood cancer patients

There are some specific considerations for the blood cancer patient which must be discussed with your oncologist.

  1. Consider your blood count levels. If your white blood cell count (WBC) is low, you may have a reduced ability to fight infections. You should avoid crowds, exercise at home. If your platelets are reduced, you are more prone to bleeding or bruising. Avoid activities with a high risk of falls or injury, consider resistance bands, and avoid contact sports.
  2. IV lines- If you have an intravenous device such as a central line catheter, talk with your health care provider about safely securing it.
  3. Myeloma patients-talk with your oncologist about an increased risk of bone fractures, you may want to avoid high-risk activities and those with body contact.
  4. Exercise Emergencies-Contact your physician if any of the following occur:
    Chest pain, palpitations, change in vision, confusion, sudden shortness of breath, unusual pain in bones or joints, sudden nausea or vomiting, fainting spells, or unusual bruising.

The new guidelines promote exercise as a standard in clinical practice for the cancer patient. The prescription must be individualized according to the patient’s pre-treatment aerobic fitness, medical comorbidities, response to treatment, and any experienced negative effects of treatment.

I plan to discuss the new guidelines with my oncologist at next week’s scheduled appointment and hope that these recommendations will become the standard of practice.

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