For Cancer Survivors, YMCA Program Eases Muscle Pain, Fatigue, and More

January 10, 2012
RheumatologyNetwork Staff

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle reports that a specially designed YMCA program ready to go nationwide eases the non-cancer problems that are common among cancer survivors, many of them musculoskeletal.

For your patients undergoing treatment for cancer, although it may seem counter-intuitive, this could be the best time to discuss physical exercise. In fact, the patient may be waiting for you to ask.

The growing number of cancer survivors often face problems familiar to those with musculoskeletal ailments: pain, fatigue, sleeplessness, and depression. A study sponsored by a major cancer center has found that, as for people who have arthritis or other musculoskeletal conditions, a dedicated exercise program can resolve many of the quality-of-life issues that loom large once cancer is no longer a crisis.

Pioneered by the YMCA of Greater Seattle and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the program offered 12 weeks of physical training and exercise classes to cancer survivors and their families. The classes were run by personal trainers who had completed two days of training about cancer physiology and relevant psychological issues. The 221 participants in the study, who took part at 12 regional YMCA fitness centers, were examined at baseline and after completion of the program.

Participants experienced reductions in body pain, fatigue, insomnia, and overall musculoskeletal symptoms, as well as three subscales of the Muscle and Joint Measure: arthralgias, myalgias, and weakness. Furthermore, participants reported improvements in mental health, general stamina, and their social lives in general.

Patients in the study were predominantly white and female, and most were beyond the five-year survival mark. Many cancer survivors clamor for physical fitness programs, write Emily Jo Rajotte and coauthors, and the benefits of regular exercise may begin much earlier--perhaps even as soon as the time of diagnosis. But oncologists seldom raise the issue of exercise with cancer patients.

According to the report this week in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, the program was designed to be used nationwide.

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