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No more cotton wool: experts push for exercise for cancer patients

Exercise should be prescribed as part of routine cancer care for all patients, the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia has said in a position statement.

The move has been endorsed by Cancer Council Australia and supported by over 20 cancer and exercise organisations.

COSA called on all health professionals treating cancer patients to discuss exercise as a part of any cancer treatment plan, prescribe exercise to all people with cancer, and refer patients to an exercise physiologist and/or physiotherapist with experience in cancer care.

Lead author and Australian Catholic University Professor Prue Cormie, chair of COSA Exercise and Cancer Care, said evidence of the need to prescribe exercise in addition to other cancer treatments was "now overwhelming".

Cormie said: “Evidence suggests that withholding exercise from people with cancer is harmful.

“Based on what the science tells us, exercise is the best medicine people with cancer can take, in addition to their cancer treatments, to reverse treatment-related side-effects, slow the progression of their cancer, increase quality of life and improve the chances of survival.

“If we could turn the benefits of exercise into a pill it would be demanded by patients, prescribed by every cancer specialist and subsidised by government – it would be seen as a major breakthrough in cancer treatment. Exercise is a medicine that works alongside mainstream treatment to help those affected by cancer feel better and increases their chances of survival.”

David Speakman, chief medical Officer at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, said: “The notion that we must protect a patient, wrap them in cotton wool, is old fashioned and not supported by the research.

“Our attitudes to treating cancer – what it takes to give people their best chance at survival – have to change. All cancer patients will benefit from an exercise prescription.”

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