COSA cancer research
Cycling to cure cancer

Australia's peak body representing cancer doctors is recommending that exercise and bike riding becomes a cornerstone of cancer treatment.

The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) has released a position statement saying that prescribing exercise should be standard practice in cancer care and that all people with cancer should avoid inactivity.

A key target for cancer patients should be at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise each week.

These targets are less than the regular recommendations for physical activity (30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each day), and it is recommended that patients progressively work towards targets and maintain them once reached.

The advice recommends that to maximise safety and therapeutic effect, exercise should be prescribed and delivered under the direction of an accredited exercise physiologist or physiotherapist with a focus on transitioning to ongoing self-managed exercise.

"Exercise recommendations should be tailored to the individual’s abilities noting that specific exercise programming adaptations may be required for people with cancer based on disease and treatment-related adverse effects, anticipated disease trajectory and their health status,” the Society says.

COSA's recommendations are based on clinical research that shows that the regular benefits of physical exercise are still worthwhile when living with cancer.

The position statement says improved aerobic fitness, muscular strength and functional ability that comes from exercise reduces cancer-related fatigue, relieves psychological distress and improves quality of life.

It also says that emerging evidence indicates that regular exercise before, during and after cancer treatment reduces the risk of developing new cancers.

The position statements references almost 50 separate studies and papers, many of which are international, however there has also been local research conducted.

In May 2016, the ABC's Catalyst program reported on a study by the Exercise Medicine Research Institute at Edith Cowan University where cancer patients used exercise bikes straight after undergoing chemo and radiation therapy.

Findings from the trial showed that prescribed exercise helps muscles to produce chemicals that physically kill tumour cells, and patients also reported that symptoms such as lethargy and nausea were reduced, as the COSA statement suggests.

COSA's key recommendations

  • All people with cancer should avoid inactivity and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible following diagnosis (i.e. be as physically active as current abilities and conditions allow)
  • All people with cancer should progress towards and, once achieved, maintain participation in:
    • At least 150 minutes of moderate- intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g. walking, jogging, cycling, swimming) each week
    • Two to three resistance exercise (i.e. lifting weights) sessions each week involving moderate-to vigorous-intensity exercises targeting the major muscle groups

Click here to see COSA's position statement.

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