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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Exercise May Improve the Quality of Life for Cancer Patients

Today’s guest post is by a wonderful young lady, Liz Davies.  Liz was influenced by her mother, an oncology nurse who saw, first-hand, the devastating and debilitating side effects cancer treatments often create.  Sadly, the risk for potential side effects is often not sufficiently explained to patients, nor are suggestions offered to help patients avoid or manage these issues. Her goal is to educate patients on ways to minimize the side effects of cancer treatment so that they may move forward into a life of wellness and health.  We all look forward to a day when cancer treatments do not negatively affect quality of life, but in the mean time, it is helpful to know that there are steps one can take to lessen the effects of treatment.

Exercise May Improve the Quality of Life for Cancer Patients
Cancer strikes millions of Americans each year, and while advancements in modern medicine have resulted in a lower mortality rate for many types of cancer, certain treatments are associated with negative side effects such as fatigue, muscle wasting, nutritional deficiencies and in many cases neuropathy. Some of these issues will lesson or cease after treatment ends, but some never fully go away.

Regardless of one's physical condition prior to becoming ill, evidence suggests that significant benefits can be realized by those who participate in physical activity during cancer treatment. For many years, the general opinion of most medical professionals was that the best place for those undergoing cancer treatment was bed. However, research conducted over the past decade strongly suggests that this is not always the case. Some oncologists are now encouraging patients to participate in moderate physical activity, and some doctors even prescribe exercise for their patients.

Selecting an Exercise Routine

Choosing the most suitable exercise is a decision based on many variables, and these should be discussed with one's doctor or oncologist. Each patient is different, and the most appropriate exercise for one person may not be suitable for the next. Overall, the exercise routine selected depends on the patient's individual goals, and what he or she hopes to achieve. For instance, the radiation and chemotherapy treatments typically used for that battling breast cancer can create high levels of chronic fatigue, making aerobic exercise the best choice for such patients. There are a few reasons why exercise creates higher energy levels. People who exercise have an increased heartbeat which causes more oxygen to be absorbed by brain cells causing people to feel more alert and energetic. When muscles are conditioned it makes daily tasks much easier. Lastly, exercise boosts the immune system which helps makes it so people do not get sick as often which drains us of energy.
Androgen deprivation therapy–ADT–is a testosterone reducing treatment frequently prescribed for prostate cancer patients, which often results in muscle wasting. In this case, light resistance training would most likely produce the best results. Lung cancer patients typically battle extreme fatigue and breathing problems, therefore exercises that help to increase the patient's lung capacity are the wisest choice. Lymph edema–swelling of the extremities due to fluid build-up–is also a common side effect of many cancer treatments and certain exercises can lessen the occurrence of this side effect. For those suffering from or at risk for Lymph edema, please consult a therapist trained in this condition.
 Cancer and Depression
Most cancer patients struggle with some level of depression due to the seriousness of their disease. This is especially true for patients who are battling illnesses that are associated with a high mortality rate such as lung cancer or pericardial mesothelioma, pancreatic and advanced breast cancers. Exercise has been proven to stimulate the production of beta-endorphins, which combat depression and can help patients to better cope with their situation. A study conducted at the Mayo Clinic University indicated that those who participated in physical exercise experienced less depression than those who shunned exercise in lieu of anti-depressant medication. However, one should not stop taking a prescribed anti-depressant without first speaking to his or her doctor.

Battling cancer takes courage and determination, and anything that can assist a patient to feel stronger and more in control of his or her life should be pursued. Therefore, it is wise for those who have been diagnosed with cancer to speak to a doctor or oncologist about starting an exercise program and utilizing other supportive therapies, and to be sure all potential side effects are discussed prior to the onset of treatment.  
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Liz Davies is a recent college graduate and aspiring writer especially interested in health and wellness. She became particularly interested in ways cancer patients can cope with the side-effects of their treatment after her mother became an oncology nurse for lung cancer.
Elyn Jacobs

Elyn Jacobs is President of Elyn Jacobs Consulting, and a breast cancer survivor.  She helps women diagnosed with cancer to navigate the process of treatment and care, and she educates about how to prevent recurrence and new cancers.  She is passionate about helping others get past their cancer and into a cancer-free life.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that exercise is really important and essential to include as part of ones' cancer treatment plan. Some days you just can't make yourself do it, but on the days you can it's well worth the effort to at least go for a short walk. In addition to the physical benefit, there is just something about being outside in the fresh air and the feeling you get when you are finished is a feeling of real accomplishment. Actually, it's no different for those who DON'T have cancer is it? Cancer or no cancer, exercise helps a person feel better.


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