Study reveals need for cancer rehab

La Trobe University researchers are urging health providers to boost cancer rehabilitation programs, after finding just a small number of patients have access to services that could aid their recovery.

The first review of oncology rehabilitation services in Australia, conducted by La Trobe’s Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Centre, has led to calls for cancer rehabilitation to become standard in cancer care.

The study identified 31 hospital-based cancer rehabilitation services and concluded just 0.5 per cent of cancer survivors have access to the education and exercise based programs.

Lead researcher and PhD student Amy Dennett said there were a number of reasons why cancer rehabilitation was not more widely accepted.

“The idea of exercising after receiving a cancer diagnosis can be confronting as people are often overwhelmed with medical appointments and experiencing debilitating side-effects such as fatigue,” Ms Dennett said.

“People are not always aware that exercise and rehabilitation can actually aid their recovery, even while undergoing intensive treatment.

“Some health professionals also lack confidence referring their patients to rehabilitation or are simply unaware of these programs or their benefits.

“Historically, patients have been advised to rest, but there is growing evidence that exercise and rehabilitation can have a positive effect on their physical and psychological wellbeing.”

Ms Dennett said there were few rehabilitation services for cancer survivors in Australia compared with those available to people with other chronic diseases.

“There are 350 cardiac disease rehabilitation services in Australia - more than 10 times the number of oncology rehabilitation programs, despite similar numbers of those with cardiac disease.

“When you are admitted to hospital with a heart attack, you will be routinely referred to a specialised cardiac rehabilitation program yet if you are diagnosed with cancer you can often be left to navigate this yourself.

“Our study found that having a pro-active oncologist is key to overcoming these barriers.”

Ms Dennett is a physiotherapist at Eastern Health, which launched the first public oncology rehabilitation service for cancer patients in 2011 at Wantirna Health.

Media contact: Anastasia Salamastrakis 0428 195 464

Photo: Cancer survivor Barbara Wharry with La Trobe PhD student Amy Dennett