What is cancer?

Cancer is developed when abnormal cell function occurs. Cancerous cells can develop within all parts of the body and can invade surrounding and distant sites by spreading through the blood vessels and lymphatic systems. If diagnosis and treatment are not administered in the early stages of the disease, cancer can be life-threatening. Following treatment, the symptoms of cancer can result from the progression of the illness or from the side effects of the treatment itself.


Most common types of cancer

There are over 100 different types of cancer, affecting all walks of life, the most common are:

  • Prostate cancer
  • Bowel cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Melanoma of the skin
  • Lung cancer

More than 100 thousand new cases of cancer are diagnosed yearly. That’s one in two men and one in three women by the age of 85 years.

The scientific evidence supporting physical activity as a means of cancer prevention is now considered ‘strong’ and ‘convincing’ for particular cancers including colon/colorectal and breast, ‘probable’ for prostate and ‘possible’ for lung and endometrial cancers.



Types of treatment

Treatment and survival-rate for cancer varies according to the site and staging (how much the cancer has spread). Each treatment may lead to the development of side-effects, which may vary in severity and will ultimately reduce the quality of life of the patient. Treatment usually includes a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

Advances in treatment have led to more effective therapies. However, treatment-related side effects are common and may persist for long-term survivors. The most common are:

  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Impaired immune function
  • Negative changes to body weight and composition
  • Hair loss
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Poor bone health
  • Swelling
  • Gastrointestinal changes

Evidence supports a dose–response relationship between physical activity levels and some cancers including colorectal, breast and prostate, showing that cancer risk decreases as activity levels increase. So, remember that some physical activity is better than none!





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What type of exercise is best for a cancer survivor?

It is essential for exercise programs to be individualised according to the patient’s treatment status, disease stage, functional capacity, physical limitations, exercise history and preferences. It’s recommended you consult an Accredited Exercise Physiologist before you commence exercise.

The overall aim is to meet the physical activity guidelines recommended for the general population. That is, 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic-based exercise weekly.



Why is exercise important for cancer survivors?

People with cancer face unique challenges related to the risk of cancer recurrence and the development of other chronic diseases. The potential benefits of exercise during and after treatment are significant and research has proved its effectiveness.

Specifically, AEPs play an integral role in cancer prevention, supporting the medical management of cancer and optimising recovery following cancer diagnosis. The goals of exercise therapy vary depending on whether an individual is receiving initial treatment for a new diagnosis, is in remission, or is receiving treatment for a recurrence.



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Benefits of exercise

Benefits of an appropriately prescribed exercise program for this population include improved:

  • Muscle mass, strength, power
  • Cardiorespiratory fitness
  • Physical function
  • Physical activity levels
  • Range of motion
  • Immune function
  • Chemotherapy completion rates
  • Reduced anxiety and depression





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