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Exercise at the frontier of cancer treatment

Released: 27.06.16

News - Cancer Research class=

The University has developed pioneering patient-centred cancer rehabilitation through lifestyle physical activity in a community setting.

Only 20% of people with cancer are getting the national physical activity recommendations despite evidence that exercise is beneficial. Dr Saul Bloxham, co-author of a new study says: “The medical profession accepts the evidence for the benefits of exercise but across the NHS there are limited services for them to refer patients to.”

An eight week programme of  activities ranging from Wii and Xbox, table tennis and badminton games, Nordic walking, swimming and gym workouts is designed to be continued at home and with loved ones.

Uniquely, Marjon’s programme treats multi-stage and multi-site cancer, meaning both men and women with cancer ranging from breast cancer to prostate cancer all work together. Funding was provided by Mustard Tree Macmillan Centre, as part of the ‘Living well, living beyond cancer’ programme.

“But this is more than a simple dose of exercise”, Dr Saul Bloxham, Head of the Department for Health Sciences, said. “It’s a holistic project designed specifically to improve quality of life through a group peer support system.”

Working within a group allows discussions about coping with cancer symptoms to naturally arise. Independent exercise is encouraged, with members working together to motivate each other and troubleshoot ‘barriers to exercise’ such as off-putting bad weather, or setting realistic goals, using a pedometer for example.

Dr Bloxham added: “Our vision is for a sea change of awareness and we are working with oncologists to make a positive impact on more people’s lives. We believe there should be a drive to secure funding to set-up national programmes of evidence-based treatment centred on physical activity.”

An essential element is the pedagogical design of its delivery with students. A symbiotic relationship which is beneficial to both patients - who feel they are helping students to learn - and students, who have hands-on access to meaningful practical experience. Each participant benefits from an individualized approach. In 2016 several students took on independent study in this area and achieved first class degrees.

Research into the programme, led by Dr Martyn Queen, conducted a study  published in the European Journal for Person Centered Healthcare 4 (1) 230-240. It showed how thesupervised multi-modal physical activity programme, can enable recovering cancer patients to develop a physically active lifestyle.

Patients said the programme had enabled them to combat some of their post-treatment side-effects, such as chronic fatigue. The majority (67%) of the patients reported how much better they were feeling as a result of becoming physically active.

Dr Martyn Queen and Dr Saul Bloxham have just returned from presenting  further papers on physical activity for cancer survivors at the international Wingate Congress of Exercise and Sport Sciences, in Israel. Dr Martyn Queen is now leading a new field of research and has gained support from the Oncologists at Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust, for a collaborative project on physical activity for breast cancer survivors, that will also involve the Royal Cornwall NHS Trust. Dr Queen’s current project aims to investigate the low level of exercise referrals for breast cancer patients. He said: “Exercise is a supportive and low cost option for improving symptoms and overall health and wellbeing, for recovering breast cancer patients. And there are no side effects of exercise.”

Professor Phil Drew, Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon, Deputy Medical Director, Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust said: “In the age of effective but nonetheless expensive and sometimes toxic therapy for women with a breast cancer diagnosis the obvious advantages of exercise as an effective physical and psychological intervention should no longer be overlooked. Not only does exercise improves outcomes for breast cancer survivors it also has proven benefits on general physical and psychological wellbeing.”

The team is now seeking new funding to continue and expand the programme. Dr Bloxham said: “We found an exciting trend that shows cancer patients on our programme may be showing reduced levels of systemic inflammation. If we can reduce cancer cachexia through a person-centred physical activity programme that would be a real breakthrough, but we need to secure funds to test this hypothesis” Dr Bloxham has teamed up with Oncologist Dr Kyle Flegg and is hoping to gain interest in the work. 

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