Cancer patients should stay active instead of resting during treatment, says Karen Swenson of the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. The recommendation is a paradigm shift in cancer treatment. Doctors are now saying rest could do more harm than good.
Kathryn Schmitz, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, consulted with the American College of Sports Medicine in 2010 to release guidelines for cancer patients and survivors.
Schmitz and Swenson joined The Daily Circuit to discuss the importance of exercise. Highlights:
It's good for cancer patients, and for everyone else
"We put out a consensus statement in 2010 from the American college of sports medicine that showed that the evidence base indicates that individuals who have had a diagnosis of cancer actually do better and feel better if they are able to get themselves out and walking and moving more. ... We need to focus on the first two words of those guidelines, 'Avoid inactivity.' Those are actually the same first two words of the federal-wide guidelines for physical activity for all Americans. That we simply need to sit less. We need to move more." (Katie Schmitz)
It's important to start where you are
"I want to clarify for those listening who are looking at their radios in absolute shock or throwing things at the radio and saying, 'How dare you tell me to go for a jog when I feel like this?' We're not. ... What would constitute physical activity for one person would be laps around their dining room table, and what would constitute exercise for another person would indeed be a jog. It really depends. Start where you are." (Schmitz)
Medical system needs ways to support exercise
"It's a frustrating moment for cancer patients and the clinicians who care for them. Because we have a pristine evidence base that says exercise is really useful in this population and as effective as some of the medicines that they are given for the side effects and adverse outcomes they experience from their treatment, and yet there is no infrastructure ... If an oncologist wants to prescribe exercise, but also has the option of prescribing a drug, if they hand their cancer patient a prescription for the drug, they have absolute confidence that that person knows what to do. They know where to take that piece of paper, they know that they can go get the medicine, and they'll take the drug and get some help. But if the oncologist says, 'O.K., what I want you to do is exercise,' then the question becomes, 'Well, how much? Where? With whom? What's safe?' The truth is, unlike the pharmacy system, there is no infrastructure. There's no place for that doc to send the patient." (Schmitz)
"Our hope is that there will be more conversations about the need for formalized exercise programs for patients during and right after treatment — programs that will be the cancer equivalent to cardiac rehab," she said.
The benefits of exercise are well documented in a number of cancers, Dr. Schmitz continued, namely in areas such as fatigue and physical functioning, both of which directly influence quality of life. While survival is the ultimate outcome measure, with an estimated 12 million cancer survivors and growing in the United States, the importance of improving quality of life has grown exponentially.
But only 10 percent of cancer survivors are getting the amount of exercise required to receive the benefits, according to the Yale Cancer Center. Survivors should do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity along with strength training weekly, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.