When we asked her about the main areas of focus when talking about exercise and cancer she broke it down into three main points. First, there are psychological advantages of physical exercise. Exercise has a range of benefits that can help cancer survivors manage symptoms and side effects, as well as improve function and quality of life.
But Dr. Wolin isn’t suggesting that we all have to become marathon runners, but rather to “start low and slow and progress up,” especially for those that have not been active in some time. Therefore, Dr. Wolin recommends 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a day; a brisk walk is enough at first to gain the benefits of physical exercise. And finally, don’t forget about strength training. Even moderate resistance training has huge benefits. If you have access to a personal trainer or fitness specialist, ask them for help in developing a program and proper form. Many gyms and community cancer centers offer exercise programs that are free of charge for those coping with cancer.
Dr. Wolin doesn’t just rely on other’s research to develop her ideas. She is currently working on a study that looks at colon cancer patients that have completed treatment and analyzes the methods and benefits of a home-based strength-training program called Thera-Band resistance training. She is also developing a web-based program that helps cancer survivors with their health/exercise questions and needs. Dr. Wolin advocates using technology more in order to reach those who do not live near gym centers or who cannot afford to go to fitness classes. The Internet gives everyone the opportunity to have the tools and programs available to them.
Reaching out to a larger audience and to those who are unable to get the information they need is very important to Dr. Wolin. She is honored to be a member of Triage Cancer’s Speakers Bureau because it allows researchers like her the opportunity to get out into the community and share their findings with survivors, their families, and as many people as possible. She holds that a lot of the research out there is written in journals that require a subscription, is not always accessible in language or format, and is written for an audience that already knows the material. The Speaker’s Bureau makes this important knowledge accessible to everyone and it helps the public see that cancer treatment and survivorship goes beyond drugs, surgery, and the care that goes on in the doctor’s office; there are lots of other elements to caring for the whole patient.
Dr. Wolin is looking forward to speaking in Philadelphia this year at The Society for Behavioral Medicine Meeting. She hopes to encourage other researchers to get engaged in social media and use this as a way to communicate with the public. There is a very active and growing cancer community online, and she wants to get her academic peers involved and engaged in this community to be able to reach out to as many people as possible and share their research.
You can read Dr. Wolin’s full biography here and follow her on Twitter.
by Dr. Julie Silver
In a recent Washington Post article, a physician at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who is also the chair American Society of Clinical Oncology’s survivorship committee, stated, “Rehabilitation programs are probably the single most underappreciated service among cancer survivors right now.”
If you are a cancer survivor, clinician, policy maker, advocate or have any involvement in cancer care at all, here are a few things that you should know:
- Cancer rehabilitation is similar to stroke rehabilitation and all survivors should be screened by their doctors and/or healthcare team for physical impairments and then referred appropriately to physiatrists (doctors who specialize in rehabilitation medicine), physical/occupational/speech therapists and other members of a multidisciplinary team.
- Cancer rehabilitation is generally covered by health insurance, including Medicare, if provided by healthcare professionals who are board certified and/or licensed in rehabilitation medicine.
- The American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer mandates that all accredited facilities offer cancer rehabilitation care.
- There is excellent research that demonstrates the benefits of cancer rehabilitation and also shows that most cancer survivors need this care.
- Research also shows a strong link between distress in cancer survivors and physical disability, so it makes a lot of sense to make sure that survivors have appropriate rehabilitation in order to improve both physical and emotional health.
- Cancer rehabilitation is distinctly different from general exercise and wellness programs and shouldn’t be confused with these. An easy test to determine whether you have had cancer rehabilitation is to consider whether you have been referred to a rehabilitation healthcare professional such as a physical therapist for one-to-one treatment in a medical setting that your health insurance covered.
- Cancer prehabilitation is also emerging as an important part of care that may improve physical and emotional outcomes when offered to people who are newly diagnosed.
If all of these things are true, and you are a survivor who hasn’t been offered cancer rehabilitation, you are probably wondering, “Have I been suffering needlessly?” The answer is “maybe”. Too often cancer survivors are told to accept a “new normal” without being screened for physical impairments and then referred appropriately to highly skilled rehabilitation healthcare professionals. The good news is that a lot of hospitals and cancer centers are developing much better cancer rehabilitation service lines. If you think cancer rehabilitation might help you or someone you care about, take this quiz:
- Are you able to do all of the things that you used to do before diagnosed with cancer?
- Do you have problems with your memory or difficulty concentrating (“chemo brain”).
- Are you more tired than you used to be?
- Do you have pain that interferes with your ability to do the things (including sleeping well)?
- Do you have problems with speaking or swallowing?
- Are you experiencing urinary incontinence or other bladder/bowel problems?
- Are you weaker than you were before being diagnosed?
- Do you have more difficulty walking or performing other activities?
- Do you have lymphedema or neuropathy or another problem related to cancer treatment?Do you think that rehabilitation might help you for a problem that is not on this list?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then ask your doctor if a referral to a cancer rehabilitation program is right for you. Rehabilitation is a critical component of high quality cancer care.
Julie Silver, MD is an associate professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. She developed the STAR Program® (Survivorship Training and Rehabilitation) Certification, which has been adopted by more than 100 hospitals and cancer centers in the United States and is available at several hundred locations. For more information about cancer rehabilitation and the STAR Program visit www.OncologyRehabPartners.com.