Health: Stay active to protect yourself, says cancer charity

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Macmillan Cancer Support estimates at least 1.6 million cancer survivors are at greater risk of serious long term health problems and recurrence of some cancers because they are not physically active enough.

It has now launched a Move More campaign to give advice and easy to follow guidance for those living with cancer as well as those who have had treatment. It is also calling on the NHS to fund physical activity services for cancer survivors in the same way they do for other long term conditions.

The nurse initiated physical activity service will see people will be referred to exercise schemes.

Macmillan research shows just how important physical activity is to the recovery and long term health of cancer patients. Four key findings in the report are:

Breast cancer patients’ risk of recurrence and of dying from the disease can be reduced by up to 40 per cent by doing recommended levels of physical activity.

Bowel cancer patients’ risk of recurrence and of dying from the disease can be reduced by around 50 per cent by doing significant amounts of physical activity,

Prostate cancer patients’ risk of dying from the disease can be reduced by up to 30 per cent by doing recommended levels of physical activity.

After treatment all cancer patients can reduce their risk of getting side effects of cancer and its treatment by doing recommended levels of physical activity. These include fatigue, depression, osteoporosis and heart disease.

Despite strong emerging evidence that being physically active could dramatically improve cancer patients’ recovery and long term health, a survey by Macmillan Cancer Support found that many health professionals are not aware of this and the majority are not talking to their patients about it.

Over half (56 per cent) of GPs, practice nurses, oncologists and cancer nurses do not speak to their patients about the possible benefits or physical activity, or at best they speak to just a few of them. This rises to 72 per cent for GPs and 60% for oncologists.

Carol Fenton of Macmillan Cancer Support said: “There really needs to be a cultural change, so that health professionals see physical activity as an integral part of cancer after care, not just an optional add-on.”

“Cancer patients would be shocked if they knew just how much of a benefit physical activity could have on their recovery and long term health, in some cases potentially preventing them from having to go through the grueling ordeal of treatment all over again.

“It doesn’t need to be anything too strenuous, doing the gardening, going for a brisk walk or a swim all count. Health professionals can refer patients to a variety of services such as physiotherapy, specialist exercise programmes at leisure centres or walking groups.”

Traditionally cancer patients were told to “rest up” after their cancer treatment and to “take it easy”, yet Move More shows that this approach is outdated and actually puts cancer patients at risk.

Visit www.macmillan.org.uk/movemore to download a ‘getting started’ pack with tips on how to take light exercise and to be more active.