Exercising can reduce the side effects of radiotherapy

Exercising can reduce the side effects of radiotherapy
© iStock / jacoblund

Exercise can ease the side effects of radiotherapy, according to the latest research from Edith Cowan University (ECU).

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. One in eight women in Australia will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the age of 85.

Radiotherapy is an important element of breast cancer treatment; however, it can lead to fatigue and negatively impact patients’ quality of life and affect patients’ emotional, physical and social well-being.

A total of 89 women took part in the ECU study. Of these women, 43 completed a 12-week home workout treatment, consisting of a weekly exercise regime of one to two resistance training sessions and an accumulated 30-40 minutes of aerobic exercise.

The remaining patients made up the control group who did not take part in the exercise programme.

Exercise led to faster recovery

The researchers found patients who exercised recovered from the side effects of radiotherapy quicker during and after radiotherapy compared to the control group. The researchers also noticed a significant increase in health-related quality of life post-radiotherapy. No adverse effects from the exercise group were reported.

According to study supervisor Rob Newton, home-based resistance and aerobic exercise during radiotherapy are safe, feasible and effective in accelerating recovery and improving responses to the side effects of radiotherapy.

“A home-based protocol might be preferable for patients, as it is low-cost, does not require travel or in-person supervision and can be performed at a time and location of the patient’s choosing. These benefits may provide substantial comfort to patients by easing the side effects of radiotherapy,” said Newton.

Current guidelines in Australia for cancer patients recommend moderate aerobic exercise for 30 minutes per day, five days a week, or vigorous aerobic exercise for 20 minutes a day for three days a week.

The guidelines also recommend eight to ten strength-training exercises with eight to 12 repetitions per exercise, for two-to-three days per week.

Easing the side effects of radiotherapy led to improved quality of life

“The amount of exercise was aimed to increase progressively, with the ultimate target of participants meeting the national guideline for recommended exercise levels,” said study lead Dr Georgios Mavropalias.

“However, the exercise programs were relative to the participants’ fitness capacity, and we found even much smaller dosages of exercise than those recommended in the national guidelines can have significant effects on cancer-related fatigue and health-related quality of living during and after radiotherapy,” he added.

The researchers found that most participants who began the exercise programme stuck with it. The exercise group reported significant improvements in mild, moderate, and vigorous physical activity for up to 12 months after the supervised exercise programme finished.

“The exercise programme in this study seems to have induced changes in the participants’ behaviour around physical activity,” said Dr Mavropalias.

“Thus, apart from the direct beneficial effects on reduction in cancer-related fatigue and improving health-related quality of life during radiotherapy, home-based exercise protocols might result in changes in the physical activity of participants that persist well after the end of the programme,” he concluded.

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