Exercise should be promoted to those fighting cancer, according to leading Australian experts

Not to prescribe exercise as part of treating cancer must be seen as harmful, according to 25 of Australia’s leading experts on cancer.

According to a new position statement from the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia, “best practise cancer care [is to] include referral to an accredited exercise physiologist and/or physiotherapist”. With exercise to be viewed as a form of therapy that helps counteract the “adverse effects of cancer and its treatment.” This is the first researcher-led push of its kind, anywhere in the world.

Long gone are the days where cancer patients should be wrapped in cotton wool and forced to rest. The handbook guidelines suggest all those fighting cancer should avoid being inactive and return to normal daily exercise as soon as possible.

People undergoing cancer treatment should progress towards, and then maintain, at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week – this includes walking, jogging and cycling. The exercise routine should also include two to three resistance exercise sessions, targeting major muscle groups.

Of course, these recommendations should be tailored to an individual’s needs and treatment by an expert exercise physiologist.

A 2016 study led by Prue Cormie, Principal Research Fellow and Exercise Physiologist, examined the impact of exercise on cancer mortality, found that patients who exercised regularly before, during and following their cancer diagnosis were observed to have a lower risk of cancer mortality and recurrence and experienced less severe side effects during treatment.

In her 2017 TEDx talk on the subject, Cormie said: “based on what the science tells us, there is no pill or procedure that shows more promise to improve quality of life than exercise medicine. With the potential of exercise to extend survival, when coupled with the clear benefits to quality of life, there’s a strong argument for exercise to be incorporated in every cancer patients treatment.”

Writing for the Conversation, Cormie adds: “If the effects of exercise could be encapsulated in a pill, it would be prescribed to every cancer patient worldwide and viewed as a major breakthrough in cancer treatment. 

“If we had a pill called exercise it would be demanded by cancer patients, prescribed by every cancer specialist, and subsidised by government.”