Prehabilitation will lessen the impact of cancer treatment

Prehabilitation joins the cancer care pathway

MacMillan Cancer Support’s new prehabilitation guidelines marks a shift change in the management and support of people with cancer.

I met a new client recently. She was six months on after treatment for leukaemia and keen to improve her fitness and energy levels.

During our preliminary chat about her health status and previous activity levels she told me a tale that will be familiar to many people who have been through cancer treatment.

She said that she considered herself to be fairly fit before her diagnosis. However, her treatment regime and months in hospital had left her extremely fatigued, lacking in strength and with a waistline embarrassingly thicker than it was before treatment.

Immunosuppression during treatment meant she was confined to a side room no bigger than three metres by four. In her own words, she lay on her hospital bed for weeks on end and did nothing. There were occasional physiotherapy visits, but the resistance bands and exercise sheets proffered simply gathered dust on the windowsill.

Six months on and she said she was still struggling to get beyond her deconditioned state.

Prehabilitation guidelines

Given this and many similar discussions with other clients, I’m particularly pleased to see the launch of Macmillan Cancer Support’s new ‘Prehabilitation for people with cancer’ guidelines.

The guidelines outline the principles and guidance for prehabilitation within the management and support of people with cancer.

Prehabilitation principles

The basic premise behind prehabilitation is that better mental and physical preparation will help people with cancer to deal with the effects of their condition and the side effects of their treatment. And while they are at it, they can also do a lot to improve their long-term health.

Prehabilitation looks at encouraging healthy behaviours, such as smoking cessation and alcohol reduction, and the implementation of specific exercise, nutrition and psychological interventions, based on the needs of the individual.

The idea is that prehabilitation will empower clients, lessen the impact of cancer treatment and form the basis for rehabilitation after that treatment.

Exciting developments

MacMillan Cancer Support’s move is an exciting development in cancer care. I look forward to seeing prehabilitation principles embedded into the medical care of everyone who has cancer treatment.

For this to happen prehabilitation will need to move to the forefront of the minds of every healthcare professional. It will need to be on the medical and nursing curricula and form an integral part of all treatment plans, starting before cancer treatment commences, rather than waiting for side effects to kick in.


Read more about the role of exercise in cancer care