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Exercise Safe and Beneficial After a Lung Cancer Diagnosis

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Persons who have been diagnosed with lung cancer also can benefit from exercise new research suggests. Dr. Lee Jones and colleagues from Duke University Medical Center recently reported that exercise can have important benefits for lung cancer patients and survivors, regardless of disease stage or limited physical activity. Most research examining the effects of exercise in cancer survivors have been performed in women with breast cancer. Until recently, it was unclear if these benefits could be translated to persons with lung cancer. However, a new review article shows that exercise is not only safe but also beneficial for lung cancer patients.

As the lead investigator of a study published in the journal Cancer in 2007, Jones showed that four to six weeks of aerobic exercise, consisting of stationary cycling five times a week, before surgery improved fitness levels by 15 to 22 percent. However, the study only included 20 patients with lung cancer, most of whom had non-small cell lung cancer.

He led another study, published in Cancer in 2008, which included 19 NSCLC patients, showing that 14 weeks of exercise therapy (consisting of stationary cycling three times a week) after lung cancer surgery improved fitness levels by approximately 11 percent (a healthy person is expected to improve by 15 percent). While fitness levels of patients who exercised during chemotherapy did not improve, Jones says exercise may still be beneficial. Preliminary evidence in this area supports that exercise therapy may be an important consideration in multidisciplinary management of patients diagnosed with lung cancer.

These findings were published in Recent Results in Cancer Research.

Research in Context – Dr. Jones’ Thoughts

While most research groups studying the role of exercise following a cancer diagnosis have focused on women with breast cancer and men with prostate cancer. In comparison, until 2007, no studies had included persons diagnosed with lung cancer. However, the reality is that lung cancer is responsible for the most cancer-related deaths and is responsible for more deaths than breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer combined. As such, there is a crucial need for alternative, effective therapies in persons with lung cancer. The common misconception is lung cancer patients may not be capable of exercising particularly following extensive lung cancer surgery. However, we, and others, have shown that persons with lung cancer are not only capable of exercising after surgery but also experience several important benefits. We are currently investigating the optimal type of exercise training to improve fitness and other outcomes such as quality of life and fatigue in 174 postsurgical patients who have completed cancer therapy. We hope that this study, as well as other work, will provide the necessary evidence to include exercise as an integral component of care for persons diagnosed with lung cancer.