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Nurses should 'prescribe' exercise to cancer patients

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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.

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Readers' comments (5)

  • Nurses should prescribe exercise to most of our patients, not just cancer patients.

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  • "“Health professionals can refer patients to a variety of services such as physiotherapy, specialist exercise programmes at leisure centres or walking groups,” he said."

    are these subsidised as some of these activities can be very costly?

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  • sharon rose

    Hello i am sharon Rose White I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2005 and was at the time a SALSA ADDICT.I loved my dancing and what made it even more enjoyable was the friends i met in the Salsa community. After my surgery and throughout my chemotherapy and Radiotherapy i danced at least three times a week. My salsa partners concious of my dance move limitations were very careful and adjusted their own moves to ensure I danced safely. I am sure i have full movement of the affected arm on the side of the mastectomy because of my twizzling moves, i think my Hickman line stayed clear because of the activity keeping the line patent. Most of all the SALSA music just lifted my mood however ill i felt. I used to say to my friend i might take my shoes tonight but i may not be well enough to dance. My friend always laughed because there i would be in the next breath captivated by the atmosphere happy and dancing. The experience of my breast cancer journey is now published as a book SINGLE SALSA SURVIVOR by Sharon Rose The journal of a breast cancer survivor . i would recommend salsa dancing to fellow cancer patients as part of their recovery go for it i am still here 6 yrs later so say yes to exercise xxx

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  • sharon rose | 9-Aug-2011 1:22 pm

    BRAVO, BRAVO Sharon.

    in this case it looks as thought it would be positive to promote Salsa and other similar activities. we all have lessons, whether ill or healthy, to learn from your very courageous example and thank you so much for sharing it.

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  • A very important article - thank you.

    Slowly, the word is getting out! Exercise can be tailored to suit all abilities and needs. It can be the 'magic pill' used to help prevent illness, maintain good health and support almost any person who is recovering from physical or mental illness. We are all meant to move!

    My experience and research tells me that nurses are very keen to support their clients with exercise advice - but that they are afraid to do so in case they harm the client - so often, nothing is done.

    Nurses and health care providers are perfectly placed to assist clients with movement advice - but require support and training so they can safely and confidently 'prescribe' exercise to their clients.

    Julie Sobczak

    Author of 'Alive and Kicking: the carer's guide to exercise for older people'.

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