Thursday, August 14, 2008

Said the Doctor to the Cancer Patient: Hit the Gym

“Gyms and fitness centers have begun stepping in to meet a small but growing demand for programs designed to not only hasten recovery but to address the fatigue of chemotherapy, the swelling of lymphedema and the loss of muscle tone. In the last eight years, a dearth of research has become a flood of studies. Among them is one sponsored by the National Cancer Institute in 2006 that looked at the effects of moderate exercise on groups of breast and prostate cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy for six weeks. Those assigned to a daily program — taking walks of increasing distance and doing exercises with a resistance band — had less fatigue, greater strength and better aerobic capacity than those who were not instructed to exercise. Other studies indicate that moderate exercise has additional benefits like strengthened immune function and lower rates of recurrence. Studies at Dana-Farber found that nonmetastatic colon cancer patients who routinely exercised had a 50 percent lower mortality rate during the study period than their inactive peers, regardless of how active they were before the diagnoses. Dr. Fuchs, a study author, said it influenced his advice. ‘I am counseling all of my patients to increase their activity,’ he said, ‘or if they were regularly exercising before their diagnosis, to continue.’ But every recommendation has its caveats. There will be days during treatment when meaningful activity is not possible, oncologists say, and that’s fine. The American Cancer Society promotes moderate exercise but encourages patients to discuss their exercise plans with their oncologists, and lists on its Web site 13 precautions (cancer .org/docroot/MIT/MIT_0.asp).”

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