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News » Filed under: Lung Cancer - Non-Small Cell

Lung Cancer Patients: Post-Surgery Exercise Beneficial

Article date: May 27, 2008

The benefits of exercise are well-documented in people without cancer. A growing body of research also shows that exercise can help people with the disease, too -- by reducing fatigue, improving physical functioning, and boosting overall wellbeing. And according to preliminary findings from researchers at Duke University Comprehensive Cancer Center, even some of the most challenged patient groups can reap the rewards.

"This study adds credibility to other studies that show exercise helps during and after cancer treatment," said Anna Schwartz, FNP, PhD, FAAN, professor of nursing at Arizona State University, avid cyclist, and long-time survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She was not involved with the research.

The Duke team found that most patients who had surgery for non-small cell lung cancer were able to tolerate moderate exercise within a month of their operation and were less fatigued and gained greater fitness as a result. The findings, while early, are encouraging for a group whose treatment can have profoundly negative effects on their quality of life. The study will be discussed in a poster presentation on Sunday, June 1st at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago.

"Previous studies have demonstrated that exercise can benefit cancer survivors but lung cancer patients have been a particularly challenging group, because surgery on the lung was perceived to have a restrictive effect on the amount of exercise a person can do," said Lee Jones, PhD, lead researcher of the study. "What we found is that it is safe for patients to perform relatively high-intensity endurance exercise, they can stick with it, and they are functioning and feeling a lot better as a result."

Jones and his colleagues recruited 20 patients who recently had lung cancer surgery to take part in a 14-week exercise program. Patients rode a stationary bike for an hour three times a week under the supervision of a trainer, who tailored programs to each patient's specific needs. Researchers measured participants' oxygen levels during the workout to gauge fitness. They also evaluated the patients' fatigue and assessed their emotional and physical health, as well as the quality of their social, work, and family relationships.

Over the course of the 14 weeks, the Duke team found that patients who attended sessions saw significant gains. They reported less fatigue and better quality of life, and saw boosts in their overall fitness, particularly for patients who were not undergoing treatment. Nineteen patients completed the study and the overall attendance rate was 82%. "We were working with a highly motivated group to begin with," said Jones, "But there were a lot of other things that contributed to the high attendance rate. The program was challenging, highly motivational, and individualized to each patient. "

Study participant Danny Robbins is proof.

Prior to the study, Robbins knew he needed to exercise but he could never seem to form a habit. His work schedule was always too demanding and there was always a good excuse to skip the gym. After he was diagnosed with cancer and went through surgery, the Duke team approached him about the program, and he decided to go for it. "Before I participated in this study, I struggled with walking in the neighborhood with my wife," he said. "Now, I exercise five days a week. It's become a habit, one I'm going to keep for the rest of my life. Exercising has helped me get my strength back, and I'm so thankful for that."

Robbins says one of the reasons the program works for him is the camaraderie that's formed between him and the staff. "I missed a couple days because I was out of town, and everyone was asking about me."

For more on this topic, see our document, Physical Activity and the Cancer Patient and Q & A: Should You Exercise During Cancer Treatment?


"Effect of aerobic exercise training on cardiorespiratory fitness and quality of life in postsurgical non-small cell lung cancer patients." Author: L. Jones. Abstract No: 7577. 


Reviewed by: Members of the ACS Medical Content Staff

ACS News Center stories are provided as a source of cancer-related news and are not intended to be used as press releases.

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