More than 6,000 women are diagnosed with gynaecological cancer (including cancer of the uterus [or endometrium], ovaries, cervix, vagina, vulva, fallopian tubes, and placenta) in Australia each year. Survival rates five years after diagnosis vary by cancer
type (uterine, 83%; cervical, 72%; and ovarian, 44%); importantly, survival rates are progressively improving. Treatment usually involves surgery and adjunct therapy, but sometimes chemotherapy and radiotherapy are used, alone or in combination, without surgery. Possible side effects include fatigue, hair loss, adverse changes in body composition (an increased percentage of fat and declines in muscle), weight gain, nausea, sleep concerns, joint and other types of pain, bone loss, ‘chemo brain’ (feeling vague), lymphoedema (swelling), peripheral neuropathy (pain and tingling in the extremities), and changes in bowel and bladder habits.
Exercise plays an important role in the treatment of, and recovery from, gynaecological cancer through reducing the number and severity of treatment-related side effects and symptoms (such as pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and cognitive impairment), as well as improving or maintaining function during and after treatment. Only a limited number of studies have specifically investigated the value of exercise for survivors of gynaecological cancer.
Exercise Right recommends combining multiple forms of exercise for gynaecological cancer, including:
Current guidelines recommend maintaining or building up to 150 minutes of exercise each week. Exercise can be done in sessions as short as 10 minutes and should include either or both aerobic- and resistance-based exercises. It is best to spread exercise sessions out across the week (e.g. 30 minutes on 5 days of the week). Depending on the intensity of the resistance-based exercise, it may be necessary to avoid doing resistance based exercises on consecutive days. Additional benefits may be gained by exercising for up to 300 minutes each week, but it is important to progress towards this amount gradually.
Whilst many can safely exercise during or following treatment for breast cancer without supervision, support from a qualified health professional may help in commencing and maintaining a safe exercise program.