A new study released in the journal International Journal of Radiation Oncology • Biology • Physics, the scientific journal of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), shows the importance and power that exercise can have on cancer outcomes. In my opinion, this is common sense, but it is great that there is actually scientific date to back up the importance of remaining active during cancer treatment.
A number of studies have shown that monitoring exercise promotes better health, from reducing weight to maintaining a healthy blood pressure. This new study suggests that step counters play another role: predicting outcomes for people undergoing chemoradiation therapy for lung cancer.
“I consider step counts to be a new vital sign for cancer treatment,” says Nitin Ohri, MD, and radiation oncologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System in New York. Dr. Ohri is also the principal investigator of this new study. He says “We found that tracking our patients’ activity levels prior to treatment could give clinicians data with powerful implications. Our study shows that people who are inactive for their age will have a significantly more difficult time with radiation therapy. They are more likely to end up in the hospital, experience treatment delays and disease recurrence; and are less likely to survive. This is valuable information worth considering when making treatment decisions.”
The researchers measured the activity levels of 50 patients who had advanced non–small cell lung cancer. The patients wore step counters before undergoing chemoradiation treatment. Researchers categorized the patients as inactive, moderately active or highly active, based on their daily step counts.
The researchers found dramatic differences between the groups, in terms of how well the patients did with their treatment. Those who were inactive at baseline fared poorest during treatment. 50% of those in the inactive group had to be hospitalized during treatment, compared with just 9% of the people who were more active. Approximately 10% of inactive patients were alive and in remission 18 months post-treatment, compared with roughly 60% of those who were more active. Overall, 45% of the inactive group were still alive after 18 months versus more than 75% of those who were more active.
In additional research conducted by Dr. Ohri, he has noted that it is common for patients to become less active during treatment, with negative consequences. “When activity levels declined during treatment, that was an indicator that patients are at high risk for hospitalization within the next few days,” he remarks.
“If someone’s step counts decrease dramatically during treatment—say, from 5,000 to 2,000 steps a day—that change needs to spark some conversations. Having an objective indicator of patients’ functional status could be critical in identifying who needs extra care during treatment.”
In summary, this is a small study and will not change current clinical recommendations. Yet, perhaps it is a wake-up for physicians and patients alike. I have long held the view that exercise is most definitely important during disease treatment of any kind. Hopefully, this study sparks more doctors to encourage their patients to move, move, move!