25 Nov Gynaecological cancers & exercise: What you need to know
Gynaecological cancers, or cancers of the female reproductive system, include cancers of the cervix, fallopian tubes, ovary, placenta, uterus (endometrium), vagina and vulva. Gynaecological cancer will make up approximately 9.7% of new female cancer cases in 2019, with 6,454 females estimated to be diagnosed with gynaecological cancer in the year.
Exercise is Medicine® Australia identifies that the optimal exercise program will differ according to type of cancer, the stage of disease and the time since diagnosis. The stage of treatment (completed, current or planned) and any longer-term outlook are important considerations.
For example, programs for women with ovarian cancer who have had extensive open-abdominal surgery and are about to start repeated courses of chemotherapy will need to be tailored to fluctuating treatment-related side effects. Alternatively, women treated for uterine cancer, who have good long-term prospects, but may be obese, will need to incorporate weight loss strategies, alongside exercise intervention to reduce the risk of future disease.
BENEFITS OF EXERCISE
Throughout treatment for gynaecological cancer, women often report a variety of side effects such as fatigue, peripheral neuropathy (tingling, burning or numbness), hair and skin issues, and psychological distress.
Exercise can counter a number of these treatment-related adverse effects. For instance, a research review found that exercise had a positive effect on fatigue levels in women with gynaecological cancers, as well as improved other physical indicators such as weight loss, depression scores and aerobic fitness.
In another example, a study conducted in 2011 analysed a walking program for women undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. Women walked four days per week at a moderate intensity, for 30 minutes each session. Significant improvements were seen in physical functioning. They also experienced decreased symptoms and reported an improved quality of life.
EXERCISE DURING RECOVERY
Exercising regularly once treatment is completed can improve management of existing treatment-related side effects and prevent new side effects from presenting. It will also improve strength and fitness, and in turn, improve quality of life.
However, after surgery and treatment for gynaecological cancer, a range of barriers can present which can restrict access to exercise such as the fear of worsening symptoms, bowel and bladder problems and being overweight or obese. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist can tailor an exercise plan suitable to the individual needs and stage of treatment of someone undergoing treatment for gynaecological cancer.
Expert Contributor: Zosha Jarecki-Warke, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Guardian Exercise Rehabilitation