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July 4, 2012

Minimize Side Effects of Cancer Treatment: Exercise

Cancer Treatment Side Effects and ExerciseIt is projected by the American Cancer Society that 1,638,910 Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and 577,190 individual will die from cancer. But, the number of patients who will experience some side effect from cancer treatment is much higher despite better treatments.

Fortunately, side effects of cancer treatment can be minimized by being physically active both before being diagnosed with cancer and during cancer treatment.

The treatment options for cancer include surgery, sometimes minor in the removal of a mole, or major as in removal of a kidney. Other cancer treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal modulation, and immunotherapy.  In some cases more than one treatment is used contributing to side effects of cancer treatment.

Each type of treatment is associated with certain risks and side effects.  Side effects can be immediate, or be delayed and not show up for years later.

Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Heart damage/toxicity
  • Decrease pulmonary function
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Neuro-cognitive changes
  • Body weight changes
  • Loss of lean mass
  • Gain of fat mass
  • Loss of bone density
  • Loss of motion of extremity
  • Loss of muscle strength, endurance, flexibility
  • Impaired sexual function
  • Impaired immune system
  • Decrease lymphatic function
  • Loss of quality of life

Impact of Exercise on Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

The best studied cancer in terms of the role of exercise is breast cancer, but other cancers have also been looked at. Most studies show significant improvement in cardiopulmonary function with exercise in cancer patients. Twenty to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week is generally needed to see these improvements.

Loss of muscle strength and endurance also has been shown to improve significantly with resistance training in a majority of the studies assessing musculskeletal health and cancer. Loss of motion can occur from surgical scarring, and again, studies show stretching/flexibity exercises to beneficial in regaining necessary motion.

In some cancers like breast and gynecologic cancers it is necessary to remove lymph nodes.  This can lead, however, to swelling (lymphedema) of the upper or lower extremities. Because of lymphedema there has long been concern that exercise might make it worse.

Studies specifically looking at lymphedema of the upper extremities in breast cancer patients found both aerobic and resistance training of the upper extremity to be safe.

Improvement in body composition is more difficult to achieve with exercise in cancer patients and improvements in percent body fat have been shown to be small, but similar to that seen in the general population.

Fatigue in cancer patients can be disabling and differs in its persistence and severity as compared to fatigue experience in non-cancer patients. Most studies show improvement in fatigue in cancer patients with a walking, aerobic, or cycling program. And, 8 out of 10 recent studies show exercise to improve at least one indicator of quality of life in cancer patients.

Side effects of cancer treatment can be minimized. If you have cancer stay as physically active as possible, and if you know some one with cancer encourage them to stay active.

See related articles.

“Exercise and Breast Cancer”

“Exercise and Cancer”

“Exercise to Slow Down Aging Process”

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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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