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Physio-led exercise integral to cancer treatment, says COSA Position Statement

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New research presented at last month’s Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) conference, shows that exercise during cancer treatment can reduce the risk of a patient dying from the disease, with physiotherapy lead programs specifically recommended.

The evidence, included in the newly released Exercise in Cancer Care position statement also indicates that regular exercise would reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and result in fewer or less severe side effects when compared to people who did not exercise or performed less exercise.

Australian Physiotherapy Association member Elise Gane said that while the last 15 years has seen large growth in the understanding of the benefits associated with cancer recovery, this new evidence is focused on exercise throughout treatment.

“Those who are the most tired and physically impaired actually benefit the most from exercising,” said Ms Gane.
“There is an understanding held by oncology physiotherapists in Australia that cancer (oncology) rehabilitation will grow in awareness and importance in much the same way that cardiac rehabilitation and pulmonary rehabilitation have done.”

Currently though, it is estimated that around 70 per cent of people with cancer do not meet aerobic exercise guidelines, and around 90 per cent don’t meet resistance exercise guidelines.

“Researchers from La Trobe University, led by PhD student and APA member Amy Dennett, surveyed Australian hospitals for oncology rehabilitation programs - just 31 programs were found, giving access to this form of face-to-face, cancer-specific rehabilitation to only 0.5% of cancer survivors in Australia.”

Ms Gane said a lack of understanding from referring practitioners about the benefits of exercise for people with a cancer diagnosis is also contributing to the low number of cancer survivors engaging in exercise and physical activity.

“Researchers from Curtin University interviewed people with a history of cancer who dropped out of an exercise program run by Cancer Council WA.

“Reasons for stopping their involvement in the exercise program included poor availability of programs to join, programs were located in areas that people found difficult to travel to, and class times were inconvenient,  lack of confidence in their ability to exercise, feeling unwell or fatigued, and preferring home-based exercise to using a gym.”

The COSA statement recommends that all people with cancer should progress towards and, once achieved, maintain participation in at least 150 minutes of moderate‐intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous‐intensity aerobic exercise, and two to three resistance exercise sessions each week.

“Physiotherapists are perfectly placed within the community and within the public health system to offer oncology rehabilitation to people with a history of cancer,” said Ms Gane.

“We have the skills and expertise to prescribe individualised exercise and physical activity to people, accounting for where they want to exercise and what side effects from treatment they still might be experiencing.”

With low rates of referral from oncologists still a barrier to exercise participation, the COSA position statement aims to raise awareness across the health sector about the importance of exercise in the management of patients with a cancer diagnosis.


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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.