Chemotherapy is a popular treatment option for mesothelioma, but as with most other cancer treatment, it can come with painful side effects. Exercise is beneficial for everyone, but can it help ease the harsh side effects of chemotherapy? A seven-year study shows that it can with moderation and a standardized program.
Researchers at the University of Rochester’s Wilmot Cancer Institute carried out the study with a regime called the “Exercise for Cancer Patients (EXCAP) program,” specifically geared towards cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The preliminary results of the study indicated that patients who exercised experienced a reduction in peripheral neuropathy pain, one of the painful side effects of chemotherapy.
Peripheral neuropathy, when associated with chemotherapy, is actually induced when taking chemotherapy medications. Known as chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), the condition is marked by tingling and weakness in the hands and feet, cold sensitivity, a burning feeling, and numbness. It can become so severe that it can hinder daily activities, such as walking, cleaning, cooking, and typing.
The popular chemotherapy drugs, cisplatin and carboplatin, in particular, cause CIPN, and in turn, were the primary focus of the study. More than 300 cancer patients participated in the study, which included breaking the group into those who participated in a 6-week talking program and those who didn’t. According to a press release on the study, “The exercisers reported significantly fewer symptoms of neuropathy…and the effects of exercise seemed to be most beneficial for older patients.”
The exercise program used in the study is known as the EXCAP, a regulated program designed specifically for cancer patients. It includes a walking routine and resistance training, which starts out slowly, but increases in intensity and frequency as the program progresses. Since each patient needs their doctor’s approval prior to starting, the exercises are individualized to meet each person’s strength, health, and fitness level.
For example, a patient in decent physical shape could start the program at a moderate level, while incorporating elliptical machine use into the weekly exercise regime. Someone with a low fitness level, on the other hand, would start off with light, brisk walking for 15 minutes per day. If the patient is having balance or dizziness problems, walking may be replaced with stationary bike riding or another physical activity.
More Exercise Programs for Mesothelioma Patients
Since the results of the study were so positive, more and more cancer centers are now offering their own exercise programs for cancer patients. EXCAP creator Karen Mustian, Ph.D. wrote that when the program started, there was a lot of criticism and doubt. But now that the medical community sees the results, the concept of chemotherapy patients exercising in moderation is spreading like wildfire.
“Twelve years ago when we started this work a lot of people said it was not safe for most cancer patients to exercise. Now we know it can be safe when done correctly, and that it has measurable benefits. But more exercise isn’t always better for patients who are going through chemo — so it’s important to continue our work and find a way to personalize exercise in a way that will help each individual.”
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