Better, Stronger, Happier

Why cancer rehabilitation is necessary

CAROLE SCHNEIDER, PHD
PUBLISHED: JUNE 16, 2012
Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.
Cancer affects one in three people at some stage in their life. The good news is that the advent of new technologies and treatments means fewer people are dying of cancer. Yet cancer and its treatments leave a majority of cancer survivors with compromised muscular strength and cardiovascular abnormalities, leading to diminished energy, fatigue and weakness. In fact, the potential exists for cancer survivors to experience negative alterations in every system (cardiovascular, muscular, immune, gastrointestinal, etc.) within their bodies.

These negative alterations compromise the quality of life for cancer survivors, making it difficult to perform activities of daily living. The purpose of cancer rehabilitation is to reverse the severity of the negative side effects of cancer and its treatments. Cancer rehabilitation, therefore, is essential as a complementary treatment throughout the cancer continuum (diagnosis, treatment, recovery).

Cancer rehabilitation is multidimensional, addressing issues related to the psychological well-being, socioeconomic impact and physical functioning of cancer survivors. Many cancer rehabilitation programs focus on the psychological and socioeconomic issues of survivors but do not address their physical functioning (work capacity).

Cancer rehabilitation is multidimensional, addressing issues related to the psychological well-being, socioeconomic impact and physical functioning of cancer survivors.

Improving physical functioning is essential for cancer survivors’ quality of life. The positive effects of exercise are closely related to the negative effects of cancer treatment. For example, some chemotherapy drugs can adversely affect heart function. Exercise, on the other hand, can improve heart function by increasing the heart’s ability to contract, which boosts the amount of blood pumped by the heart so oxygen can be delivered more efficiently to the working muscles. The increased oxygen can help reduce the fatigue often experienced by cancer survivors.

Exercise-based cancer rehabilitation can also lead to enhanced muscle strength by improving mechanisms within the muscle tissue. Research investigations at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute have shown improvements in cardiovascular work capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, range of motion and quality of life, with simultaneous reductions in depression and fatigue during and following treatment. We have found that even a limited amount of exercise prior to beginning treatment helps minimize the negative effects of cancer treatments.

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the General Discussions CURE discussion group.
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