Health Tips: Exercise Can Help Cancer Patients, but Few Oncologists Suggest It

Numerous studies have shown the powerful effect that exercise can have on cancer care and recovery. For patients who have gone through breast or colon cancer treatment, regular exercise has been found to reduce recurrence of the disease by up to 50 percent. But many cancer patients are reluctant to exercise, and few discuss it with their oncologists, according to a Mayo Clinic study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management.

“As doctors, we often tell patients that exercise is important, but to this point, nobody had studied what patients know about exercise, how they feel about it, and what tends to get in the way,” says lead author Andrea Cheville, MD, of Mayo Clinic’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

“There was a real sense of ‘What I do every day, that’s my exercise,’” says Dr. Cheville, noting that most patients didn’t realize daily activities tend to require minimal effort. “Most were not aware that inactivity can contribute to weakening of the body and greater vulnerability to problems, including symptoms of cancer.”

In addition, researchers found that patients would take exercise advice most seriously when it came directly from their oncologists, though none of the oncologists studied had discussed it with them.