Exercise – a wonder drug for cancer survival

Exercise a ‘wonder drug’ for cancer survival

New evidence shows how important physical activity is for the recovery and long-term health of cancer survivors.

According to a new report from Macmillan Cancer Support, 1.6 million cancer survivors in the UK could be at greater risk of serious long-term health problems and some are at greater risk of the cancer recurring because they are not physically active enough.

‘Enough’ means the levels of physical activity recommended by the four UK chief medical officers. For adults, this is 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, such as very brisk walking, heavy cleaning, cycling or mowing the lawn.

Macmillan’s report Move More: Physical activity the underrated ‘wonder drug’ presents four key findings:

    Breast cancer patients’ risk of recurrence and of dying from the disease can be reduced by up to 40% by doing 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week.

    Bowel cancer patients’ risk of recurrence and dying from the disease can be reduced by up to 50% by doing significant amounts of physical activity; this means about 6 hours of moderate intensity physical activity per week.

    Prostate cancer patients’ risk of dying from the disease can be reduced by up to 30% by doing the recommended 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity.

    After treatment, all cancer patients can reduce their risk of side effects from the cancer and its treatment, including fatigue, depression, osteoporosis and heart disease, by doing the recommended levels of physical activity.

Many health professionals unaware of benefits

However, despite strong emerging evidence that being physically active could dramatically improve cancer patients’ recovery and long-term health, a Macmillan online survey of 400 health professionals who deal with cancer patients found that many are not aware of this and most are not talking to their patients about it. Over half the GPs, practice nurses, oncologists (cancer specialists) and cancer nurses surveyed do not speak to their cancer patients about the benefits of physical activity, or at best they speak to just a few of them; this percentage rises to 72% of the GPs surveyed and 60% of the oncologists.

Ciaran Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support says: “Cancer patients would be shocked if they knew just how much benefit physical activity could have on their recovery and long-term health, in some cases reducing their chances of having to go through the gruelling ordeal of treatment all over again.”

Integral part of aftercare not just an add-on

According to Jane Maher, Chief Medical Officer of Macmillan Cancer Support and leading clinical oncologist: “The advice I would previously have given to one of my patients would have been to ‘take it easy’. This has now changed significantly because of the recognition that, if physical exercise were a drug, it would be hitting the headlines. There really needs to be a cultural change so that health professionals see physical activity as an integral part of cancer aftercare, not just an optional add-on.”