A 4-month program of physical activity tailored to cancer patients leads to multiple benefits, as oncologists explain
Sometimes the simplest solutions to the cancer challenge come through our good habits. Doing regular physical activity is certainly one of them. And we must keep its value in mind, without making excessive efforts, also in the light of the scientific data that prove it.
Physical activity adapted to patients’ conditions increases functional capacities by 13% and muscle strength by up to 40%, improving qualities such as flexibility and joint mobility by up to 53% and thus allowing a tangible improvement in the quality of life and greater autonomy .
Movement must therefore be an integral part of the rehabilitation of cancer patients after surgery, because it increases functional abilities and muscle strength, improves joint flexibility and mobility, and helps reduce weight. To say this are the first results of the ‘Operation PHALCO’ (PHysicAL aCtivity for Oncology) project promoted by the AIOM Foundation, which will be presented during the Foundation Day itself (21 October 2021).
The value of bespoke movement
“Physical activity is one of the most important tools for the prevention of chronic non-communicable diseases and is fundamental for psychophysical well-being and to improve the quality of life, at all ages and also in cancer patients – explains Stefania Gori, president of AIOM Foundation, and director of the Oncology Department IRCCS Sacro Cuore Don Calabria, Negrar di Valpolicella. We know that those who perform moderate physical activity for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week, for example, have a 7% lower risk of breast cancer, 15% less risk of colorectal, kidney and liver cancer.
Increasingly consistent data, however, underline that physical activity is also essential in patients with cancer, to maintain a good quality of life and sufficient autonomy, reduce the probability of tumor recurrence and keep bones healthy despite cancer “. From these observations began the analysis that is presented.
“We offer patients with a diagnosis of cancer four months of tailor-made physical activity, through meetings that since the beginning of the pandemic have moved online rather than face-to-face to provide the service, guaranteeing maximum safety for the sick, fragile subjects by definition – says Attilio Parisi, rector of the University of Rome ‘Foro Italico’.
The results show a 13% increase in residual functional capacity, which indicates the ability to perform tasks that require physical effort of any kind at home, at work, in leisure time: a parameter influenced by many factors, for example strength. of the lower limbs which improved in all patients, with an increase of for example 23% in explosive strength.
Flexibility improved by 54%, joint mobility by 14%, muscle strength in getting up from a chair or climbing stairs by 40%: all this translates into a better quality of life and the possibility of maintaining a good degree of autonomy longer. Furthermore, the weight of patients decreased by 2.5%, confirming the importance of providing protocols like these in the rehabilitation of cancer patients “.
Because the tumor makes the bones difficult
Physical activity is essential after a tumor also to keep bones healthy, as Lorena Incorvaia, an oncologist at the University of Palermo adds: “Cancer, due to the direct effect of cancer cells or the therapies used, can cause the loss of bone density thus increasing the risk of osteoporosis. All this can negatively affect inactivity, causing muscle wasting: a healthy and physically active lifestyle, under the direction and strict medical supervision, can help strengthen and maintain adequate muscle tone and improve balance.
After surgery and during oncological therapies there is often the risk of being overwhelmed by a sedentary lifestyle, but resuming or adopting an active lifestyle, together with a correct and balanced diet, results in a lower risk of relapses and an increase in survival compared to those who, after being diagnosed with cancer, remain sedentary ”. Bone fragility after a tumor can also be induced by oncological therapies – explains Rossana Berardi, Professor of Oncology at the Polytechnic University of Marche, Director of the Oncological Clinic of Ospedali Riuniti in Ancona -: in 70-75% of cases of breast cancer, for example, the tumor is positive for estrogen and / or progesterone receptors, and hormone therapies, which are effective and life-saving, have as a side effect the alteration of bone tissue and an increased risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
“The fragility of the skeleton and the increased risk of fractures is caused by bone hyper-resorption induced by adjuvant hormone therapy. The holistic approach to the patient is therefore crucial: bone fragility can be tackled and prevented even with the help of physical exercise, but the correct habits alone are unfortunately not enough. We also need pharmacological therapy aimed at defending the bones “.