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Exercise lifts cancer patients

June 19, 2006|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

Among the growing list of people who can benefit from exercise, add another group: cancer patients in the midst of radiation treatment.

A new study has found that women and men undergoing radiation for breast and prostate cancer felt less fatigued, had improved quality of life and missed fewer treatment sessions when they engaged in a six-week routine of moderate exercise.

"To have their fatigue dissipate was really great," says Karen Mustian, assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, who presented the 2005 study this month at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Fatigue is not only a common side effect of radiation treatment, but can get worse as treatment continues, she says.

The study included 39 sedentary men and women who were undergoing radiation therapy for cancer. Half were encouraged to engage in a daily program that included moderate walking and conditioning workouts using elastic bands. The other half were assigned to a control group that did no exercise. At the start and end of the study, as well as three months later, participants filled out surveys rating their levels of energy and strength.

The control group reported higher levels of fatigue as the study progressed, and showed a decline in muscle strength. But the exercise group showed significant improvement. They were able to walk farther and faster as time went by and do routine daily activities without problems. Some of the participants even exceeded the 10,000 steps a day recommended for adults by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mustian doesn't advocate that all cancer patients undergoing radiation follow this program, but she does encourage them to speak to their oncologists about what exercise, if any, they can do.

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