New Guidelines Urge ‘Exercise Prescriptions’ to Help Prevent Cancer, Improve Treatments

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November 6, 2019

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New guidelines published by a panel of experts urge physicians to “prescribe” exercise to help reduce the risk of certain cancers — and improve the treatment outcomes and quality of life of patients undergoing cancer treatments.

The benefits of regular exercise to reach or maintain a healthy weight, combat chronic disease and generally live longer are well established. But the new guidance goes further. Exercise oncology experts recommend systematic use of an “exercise prescription” by healthcare providers and fitness professionals “to lower the risk of developing certain cancers and best meet the needs, preferences and abilities of people with cancer.”

Exercise oncology services help patients develop a healthier, more active lifestyle during and after cancer treatment.

The guidance, published this month, concludes that exercise can contribute to the prevention of bladder, breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and uterine cancer. The recommendations also state exercise can help improve survival rates for patients with breast, colon, and prostate cancer — and improve their quality of life, including a reduction in side effects from cancer treatment.

The panel making the recommendations included experts from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Cancer Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, and more than a dozen other groups.

“These recommendations are designed to help cancer patients incorporate physical activity into their recuperation, and they’re an important reminder that all adults should strive to be as physically active as their abilities allow for cancer prevention,” said Alpa Patel, Ph.D., senior scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society, in a prepared statement by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Cancer Society.

Exercising during and after cancer treatment improves fatigue, anxiety, depression, physical function, and quality of life, and does not exacerbate lymphedema, localized swelling of the body usually in the arms or legs, the experts say.

A large study three years ago, led by the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society, found that leisure-time physical activity appears to provide potent anti-cancer benefits.

“Although the precise biological mechanism by which physical activity mitigates cancer risk remains unclear, its impact is compelling and should empower all of us to take an active role in promoting our health and wellness,” said M. Beatriz Currier, M.D., medical director for cancer support services at Miami Cancer Institute.

The analysis, published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine, found that people who were active 150 minutes a week — the equivalent of just 30 minutes a day, five days a week — had a reduced risk of many cancers. The more active people were, the more protective the effect of swimming, walking, playing sports and just plain moving.

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