Researching how exercise helps cancer patients

Doctors have long known the benefits of exercise in helping people recover from cancer. Now they’re looking at its impact on survival and recurrence — particularly among colon cancer patients.

Dorothy Kingma has always been active. Part owner of a meat packing plant, strength training comes with the job. But she’s suddenly found herself in need of a personal trainer: “To get myself physically back up. It’s good to have somebody pushing you or checking up on you to make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to. And if you have a lot of fatigue, which I do have, you tend to say ‘ok I’ll back off’.”

Her life she says, was put on hold a year ago when a routine physical diagnosed her as anemic — and unable to absorb iron. She was sent for a gastroscope and colonoscopy. “When I came to from the sedation of that, my doctor said to me we found your problem. You’ve got colon cancer.”

The St. Ann’s resident is now on the other side of surgery and chemo therapy. But colon cancer takes lives. 40% of stage 3 survivors suffer a fatal relapse. To help her chances, and the lives of others, Dorothy is taking part in a Canadian led study centred on exercise

Physiotherapist Oren Cheifetz is part of the research team: “What is the effect of exercise on colon cancer survival and recurrence. But they also want to learn how exercise can effect colon cancer survival.”

The international study will follow close to one thousand patients for the next 3-years. Oren said: “It is probably the first study that looks at the effects of exercise on colon cancer survival. And it’s a prospective study. That means it’s looking ahead vs. Looking at charts backwards.”

Dorothy works out 3 to 5-days a week. Guidance from a trainer at the YMCA will gradually taper off, once a solid habit is formed. Her program is a mix of strength training and cardio — although investigators are specifically looking at the impact of aerobic exercise.

Oren said: “We don’t really know which exercises work the best. We do know if people don’t do exercises they don’t help. So in my philosophy, the most effective exercise is the one that people actually do.”

Dorothy said: “It feels good when I do something. It’s a matter of doing it.”

Researchers for this study are still trying to recruit colon cancer survivors. Survivors interested in finding out more about the challenge clinical trial should contact the Canadian Cancer Society at 1 888 939-3333 or info@cis.cancer.ca


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