Study Finds Patients Are Less Physically Active One Year After Cancer Diagnosis

Research has shown that physical activity can help reduce cancer risk, and can help maintain quality of life and accelerate recovery after a cancer diagnosis, but results from a recent cross-sectional survey of cancer patients presented at the 2017 Cancer Survivorship Symposium finds that only 16 percent resumed regular physical exercise one year after diagnosis.

According to lead author Sally Romero, PhD, MPH, a post-doctoral research fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, this research “highlights the need for physicians not to just recommend exercise, but also to ask that next question for our patient. Mainly, ‘What is keeping you from exercising, and how can we help overcome those barriers?’”

Dr. Romero and authors conducted a survey of 662 patients with cancer (mean age = 59.9 years) who were recruited from 11 community hospitals and an urban academic medical center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The most common cancers were breast (32%), lung/thoracic (15%), and hematologic malignancies (15%). Most patients were female (65%), white (81%), and obese/overweight (65%).

The survey asked whether the patient’s physical activity since diagnosis had decreased, increased, or remained the same. Overall, 75 percent of patients reported a decrease in physical activity levels since diagnosis, while 16 percent of patients reported they maintained exercise levels, and 4 percent increased physical activity.

Chemotherapy treatment was the greatest predictor of decreased physical activity (adjusted odds ratio [OR] = 3.54; 95% CI 2.06-6.06), compared with those who did not receive chemotherapy. Metastatic disease was also associated with decreased physical activity after diagnosis (adjusted OR=1.64; 95% CI 1.07-2.52), compared with patients without metastatic disease. Age, sex, and body mass index did not appear to affect physical activity.

Patients reported fatigue (78%), pain (71%), lack of motivation (67%), and lack of self-discipline (65%) as barriers to physical activity after cancer diagnosis.

The authors stressed that cancer care teams make more of an effort to provide patients with treatment and “integrative therapies” to help manage symptoms so patients can maintain physical activity levels. “[The reported barriers] are things that are easy to work with our patients on,” Dr. Romero said. “For example, cancer patients should work with their care teams regarding exercise to stay as physically active as possible during and after their treatment – ideally 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week.”

Source: Romero SAD, Li QS, Mao JJ. Factors and barriers associated with changes in physical activity after cancer diagnosis. Abstract #162. Presented at the 2017 Cancer Survivorship Symposium, January 27, 2017; San Diego, CA.