An estimated 1.3 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed last year, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Most of those cases required treatment that produced side effects such as weight gain or loss, fatigue, nausea and vomiting. University of Missouri-Columbia researchers have found that exercise can benefit some cancer patients who undergo treatment, combating the chronic disease by helping them cope with the side effects.
Vicki Conn, associate dean of research and professor of nursing, and a team of researchers from MU's Sinclair School of Nursing examined the effects of exercise on cancer-treatment patients. They found that exercise reduced side effects associated with cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation. Specifically, the research showed that exercise does benefit the physical functions of patients currently or recently being treated for cancer.
"Improvement in physical function, such as the ability to climb a flight of stairs or walk a certain distance, is an important outcome because it greatly impacts patients with jobs and children," Conn said. "Exercise can reduce recovery time and help patients feel better as they deal with the side effects of cancer treatment."
The research also demonstrated that exercise benefits patient body composition, or percentage of body fat, and eases symptoms other than fatigue, such as pain, nausea and vomiting. In addition, the scientists detected modest improvements in quality of life, mood and level of fatigue after exercise.
"All patients should speak with their doctors before implementing any exercise regimen with cancer treatment," Conn said. "Many patients over the age of 50 have other chronic illnesses, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, which must be taken into consideration."
The study was published in the July issue of Supportive Care in Cancer. Conn's research is one component of the Sinclair School of Nursing research on chronic illness, an effort funded by a National Institutes of Health $800,000 grant. Conn recommends that future studies on exercise intervention and cancer treatment use a standardized exercise program to produce comparable results.