Up to half of nurses involved in treating cancer patients fail to advise them about the benefits of exercise, despite growing evidence that it can aid recovery, the results from a charity survey suggest.
Macmillan Cancer Support this week published a report outlining evidence that encouraging cancer patients to take regular exercise can significantly aid their recovery and boost their long chances of remaining cancer free.
It challenges the traditional approach of telling patients to rest after their cancer treatment.
The Move More report includes a review of over 60 studies and findings from pilot schemes of physical activity services for cancer patients.
It suggests breast cancer patients’ risk of recurrence and of dying from the disease can be reduced by up to 40% by doing 150 minutes moderate intensity physical activity a week. The risk of recurrence and death from disease could be reduced by about 50% for bowel cancer patients and by about 30% for prostate cancer patients.
However, the report also includes findings from a survey of health professionals, which shows that many are unaware of these benefits and, as a result, fail to advise patients accordingly.
The survey finds that 50% of practice nurses and 42% of oncology nurses are not talking to their patients about the possible benefits of physical activity, or at best were speaking to just a few of them.
The results are worse for doctors, with 72% of GPs and 60% of oncologists failing to discuss exercise with their patients.
The online survey involved 400 health professionals who deal with cancer patients, including 100 GPs, 100 practice nurses, 100 oncologists and 100 oncology nurses.
Macmillan Cancer Support chief executive Ciaran Devane said the evidence in the report showed “just how important physical activity is to the recovery process of cancer”.
“Yet very little attention to its benefits is given by health professionals or by those commissioning health services. It is essential that physical activity services are available and ‘prescribed’ to all cancer patients,” he said.
Mr Devane added that such exercise did not need to be anything “too strenuous” and that “doing the gardening, going for a brisk walk or a swim all count”.
“Health professionals can refer patients to a variety of services such as physiotherapy, specialist exercise programmes at leisure centres or walking groups,” he said.