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Exercise study to benefit cancer patients

Tuesday 23 February 2021

A new research project funded by the PA Research Foundation will bring the numerous benefits of exercise for people diagnosed with cancer directly into patients' homes.

Led by Dr Elise Gane, the research project entitled; Delivering supervised group exercise to patients with cancer via telehealth: an implementation study, will recruit patients to a 12-week personalised exercise program undertaken in their own homes through the telehealth Virtual Clinic platform.

Dr Elise Gane alongside her colleague Jocelyn Foo

Cancer patients can gain several benefits from regular exercise, including counteracting side effects from cancer treatment such as fatigue and nausea, regaining muscle mass, maintaining body weight, and improved mental health.

The program will be offered to people with cancer who are undergoing or have completed treatment, using basic exercise equipment and guidance by an experienced physiotherapist all due to PA Research Foundation funding.

Patients who are involved in the study will have the chance to engage in two exercise classes a week for 12 weeks through Virtual Clinic, where normally in person clinics only offer the choice of one session a week for 12 weeks, or two sessions a week for 6 weeks.

"Exercising safely is a key priority, so we seek medical clearance from the participant's oncology doctors, to ensure from a cardiovascular and body systems point of view the person will be able to exercise," Dr Gane said.

"A lot of patients report engaging in exercise feels like the one thing they can control as a part of their cancer treatment journey. It can help give them structure, but it also can help connect them with other people in similar circumstances, and certainly, group-based programs work really well that way, providing a peer support network for people with cancer.

"Telehealth has an extra benefit for patients with a history of cancer because a number of those patients can have low immunity, so reducing their need to be out and about in the community and at a hospital is something that we're looking to do for their own health as well."

While helping people through their cancer treatment and recovery, researchers will collate feedback from patients and other stakeholders to demonstrate the effectiveness of the telehealth model, so that more patients can benefit in the long term.

"We already know from our previous research about our exercise program, that coming in-person can cause issues for patients and their families, around parking, getting time off work and the restrictive timing of the classes on offer," Dr Gane said.

"Through this current study, we are going to be looking at a number of different angles around the project to get some extra information about things like that.

"We also want to look at costs from a patient and an organisation perspective, to have a better idea of how we can make it sustainable."

Ultimately the research team believe the telehealth exercise model can benefit patients not only in the cities but all over the country.

"We know patients in regional and rural areas have poorer health outcomes compared to people living in metropolitan areas," Dr Gane said.

"As a tertiary hospital, we have specialist cancer services and our physios are highly skilled in this area so having their services available via telehealth will benefit more people across the state.

"A lot of our patients who we treat at PA also go home to regional and remote communities, so having that connection back to the hospital where their cancer care was undertaken can be really reassuring for them."

Dr Gane said its important people diagnosed with cancer know exercise can and should be a part of their cancer journey.

"Exercise definitely needs to be a part of cancer treatment, cancer recovery, ongoing life with, and after cancer. There are many benefits to engaging in exercise, you can be fitter, stronger, and feel better. You feel less tired, so are more able to engage in work or social activities with family and friends," she said.

"Having cancer and undergoing treatment can really impact your usual routine, and exercising can give you back a sense of control."

Dr Gane said the PA Research Foundation's donors have empowered the organisation to support a wide range of health research.

"The donors to the PA Research Foundation do an amazing job in allowing the foundation to support projects here at PA that are really trying to make a difference to patient outcomes," Dr Gane said.

"The funding from PA Foundation enables us to try different ideas, different ways of approaching problems and different ways of bringing models of care to patients so we can try to use these potential solutions to overcome the barriers that we know are there."

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