Dr. Kathryn Schmitz to discuss exercise benefits for cancer patients at ASCO annual meeting

This entry is by LBBC staff member Stacia Weaver:

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is hosting its annual meeting in one week. Over 30,000 clinicians will be in attendance at the annual meeting responding to and offering information as it relates to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. LBBC caught up with Dr. Kathryn Schmitz who was invited to speak at the meeting. She will be presenting guidelines for exercise testing and prescription for all cancer patients that were developed as part of an expert panel organized by the American College of Sports Medicine.

“Doctors are concerned about the best things for their patients. There was a time, not so many decades ago, when cancer patients didn’t live as long as they do now, so doctors were teaching ‘take it easy,’ says Dr. Kathryn Schmitz as she discusses why most doctors don’t associate exercise with being the best option for cancer patients.

Dr. Schmitz conducts research that is based on the findings of the benefits of physical activity. While she targets those who suffer from obesity, she also has extended research to women affected by breast cancer as well. Dr. Schmitz recruited 295 women to take part in her PAL (Physical Activity and Lymphedema) Trial where she assessed the safety of moderate strength training for women with or at risk for lymphedema, painful swelling and stiffness of one of two arms.

Treatment for cancer patients has evolved from when doctors didn’t consider exercise a “very wise treatment.” Although most side effects from treatment are a reflection of individual medical responses, many side effects are a result of chemotherapy. Primarily, doctors rely on medication to assist their patients with side effects of treatment and are more reluctant to “prescribe” exercise.

However, there are ample research studies that have demonstrated benefits of physical activity from studies such as PAL or WTBS (Weight Training for Breast cancer Survivors). But according to Dr. Schmitz, translating the results of these trials into interventions that doctors know about, trust, and are within the financial means of cancer survivors remains a major challenge.  Doctors are challenged to cover all that they need to cover medically with their patients in short office visits, so it’s not surprising that they don’t remember to tell women to exercise too.

“Women need to discuss side effects and medical treatments and other important clinical issues with their physicians. By the time all that is done, it’s possible the appointment has run over the allotted time by 5 minutes or more.  On top of this, doctors are supposed to say ‘oh, there’s an exercise you can do?’ There just isn’t enough time,” she said.

According to exercise psychologist and physiologist, Karen Mustian, yoga may help cancer patients with treatment side effects. Dr. Mustian was the lead author in a study that revealed that yoga had sustainable benefits on sleep quality, fatigue, and overall quality of life in cancer survivors. A total of 96% of the participants of the study were women and 75% of them had breast cancer.

“What’s lovely about this study is that Karen went through the oncologists. The challenge with dealing with cancer patients is getting clinicians involved. If you have patients saying ‘I want to do the yoga poses used in that study from the University of Rochester, or the PAL trial weight training program’ the oncologists have to know that it’s safe,” said Dr. Schmitz as she acknowledges Dr. Mustian’s efforts to “connect the dots with the oncologists.”

“People [cancer patients] are living, and for a long time, particularly breast cancer patients. It turns out the talk of ‘take it easy’ is associated with worse risk than exercise itself. In my opinion, [doctors] should stop recommending patients avoid exercise,” says Dr. Schmitz.

There is one message that Dr. Schmitz and “a team of people who do this work” are focused on and are aiming to transmit to physicians: safety. “The most important message is [physical activity] is safe. Until we can make physicians believe it is safe and prove it is safe, there will always be ‘take it easy.’ Until we provide information to physicians that women want this, women benefit from this and women will not be harmed, nothing will change,” she ends.

Dr. Schmitz has heard from people across the world who are pleased with the programs that LBBC provides. She has even offered to help LBBC promote more physical activity programs on a day to day basis for women affected by breast cancer.

To hear about the latest findings revealed at ASCO’s annual meeting, register for LBBC’s teleconference scheduled for June 11th: Breaking News from ASCO.

Have you just finished treatment and you’re suffering from the side effects? Schedule a visit with your physician to talk about the best exercise for you! Already partaking in physical activity after treatment? Tell us what works for you on our facebook page.

One thought on “Dr. Kathryn Schmitz to discuss exercise benefits for cancer patients at ASCO annual meeting

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