How can you safely access exercise when you have cancer?

Despite the growing body of evidence around the benefits for people with cancer accessing exercise while they undergoing treatment, there are still significant barriers.

As a result, people who are having treatment for cancer commonly reduce their exercise levels and miss out on the positive outcomes exercise offers such tumour suppression and reduced tumour presence, reduced fatigue associated with cancer treatment and improved chemotherapy completion rates.

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  • People who are undergoing treatment for cancer will commonly experience physical barriers to exercise, such as fatigue, nausea, pain and weakness.

  • Treatments such as chemotherapy will often result in a compromised immune system, meaning increased vulnerability to infection and further sickness from people in the community. Going to a regular gym is not safe when you are in this position as infection control risk is not adequately managed.

  • Treatments for cancer will commonly result in the body responding differently to exercise. Examples of this include changes in blood pressure and variations in heart rate as a response to exercise. Clinical observations such as these must be monitored and managed in the context of the patient's full medical history and current cancer treatment regime, so that exercise can be accessed safely.

  • People undergoing treatment for cancer are required to be continually assessed and monitored each time they want to exercise as their medical stability and therefore safety to accessing exercise is highly variable.

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So how can exercise be made safe for people who are having treatment for cancer?

  • Exercise needs to be prescribed under the supervision and monitoring of a medical practitioner.

  • Exercise needs to be accessed in an environment which has specifically been designed to cater for the infection control and chemotoxic precautions required by this population.

  • Patients need to be educated by health professionals about the significant benefits appropriately designed exercise can provide to their treatment outcomes and quality of life.

Lauren Whiting