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PhD research to study links between exercise and cancer care

Exercise is now widely accepted as a positive treatment for cancer patients but a Bond University post-graduate student thinks not enough is known of which types of exercise are beneficial and how they fit into the lifestyles of cancer patients.

Alicia Olsen, who is researching the effects of physical activity on cancer victims for her PhD thesis, believes that not enough is known about the physical promotion practices by cancer clinicians and the benefits of these professionals promoting physical activity to their patients.

"We are starting out by collecting information from cancer nurses on how they promote physical activity to their patients to find out more about how exercise is perceived in cancer treatment," she said.

"There have been five separate studies out of the US, Canada and the UK which look at the promotion of physical activity as it is encouraged by oncologists and nurses.

"Those studies demonstrate that the clinicians are becoming more responsive about the benefits of exercise for their patients but still have many barriers to actually promoting their patients to be physically active.

"The literature indicates that exercise is good but clinicians are not really sure of the specific exercises that would be most appropriate and often don't know where people should be referred to.

"It is not a one-size-fits-all approach – exercise should be treated more like a prescription that a doctor gives to a patient with the decision making about what type, volume and intensity of exercise is best carefully tailored to suit individual needs."

The start of Ms Olsen's project coincides with the Blue September campaign designed to promote awareness of all the cancers that affect men, and raise funds for cancer research.

Ms Olsen's research has started with an online survey of cancer nurses, and will later be refined at in-depth discussions with oncologists and nursing staff about how they promote physical activity and healthy living to their patients and what barriers they may face in doing this. Any cancer nurses who would like to complete this 10-15 minute survey can access it via the Cancer Nurses Society of Australia website at

The research will initially take on nurses handling all forms of cancer, but is expected to be narrowed down as it progresses to concentrate on a study looking at how the promotion of physical activity by prostate cancer clinicians benefits men with prostate cancer.

The work is being carried out in cooperation with the Cancer Nurses Society of Australia and the New Zealand Nurses Organisation Cancer Section.

Ms Olsen pointed out that the survival rate for prostate cancer was very high, with almost 90 per cent of men who contract the illness living for at least five years.

However, there needs to be consideration given to the quality of life that men enjoy post-prostate cancer.

"For example walking is good but it may not be enough to compensate for conditions such as loss of muscle mass, increased body fat or loss of bone density that are common side effects of many cancer treatments," she said.

"These conditions may need to be tackled by specific exercise regimes to avoid depression, loss of self-esteem and other quality of life issues which can have a detrimental effect on cancer sufferers."

The project was the idea of Dr Justin Keogh, Associate Professor of Bond University's Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, and Dr Lynnette Jones from the School of Physical Education, University of Otago who are both supervising Alicia Olsen's PhD project.

Dr Keogh said one objective of the work was to create a greater level of knowledge and trust among cancer specialists and nurses about the exercise professionals who could work cooperatively with them to develop tailored programs for cancer patients.
He pointed out that the industry peak body, Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) was responsible for the accreditation of exercise physiologists trained and qualified to do this kind of work.

"These specialists are registered with Medicare as qualified health professionals and are well equipped to help in this specific area, but it is a relatively new discipline and perhaps not as well understood at it could be," said Dr Keogh.

"Exercise physiology is becoming an increasingly important part of the health care system.

"The objective of Blue September is to promote general healthy lifestyles for men to stop them from getting cancer, but also to help them to live with cancer.

"We hope that Alicia's PhD work will contribute positively to this philosophy and improve linkages between clinicians and exercise professionals to the benefit of all affected by cancer."

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