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Testing Nutrition and Exercise During Treatment

May 17, 2017

My name is Dr. Kristin Campbell and I am thrilled to be blogging alongside my colleague Dr. Ryna Levy Milne this month for the BC Cancer Foundation.

My research program is focused on understanding the role of exercise and physical therapy to improve the side effects of cancer treatment and the health of cancer survivors. I am the co-leader of the NExT study alongside Cheri Van Patten, a registered dietitian at the BC Cancer Agency.  Our study team also includes Dr. Donald McKenzie, a sports medicine physician at UBC, and Dr. Karen Gelmon, a medical oncologist at the BC Cancer Agency.

The exciting thing about this study is that it allows us to test the benefits of an exercise and healthy eating program outside of the lab.  We wanted to build on the established research to date and test if you can still see the same benefits of exercise and nutrition during treatment on a wider group than typically included in a strictly controlled clinical trial.  Essentially, the study is an effectiveness trial – we wanted to know if the program would work in the real world.

Currently, breast cancer patients in British Columbia have limited access to an exercise and healthy eating program especially during cancer treatment, even though it is proven to be beneficial to help manage the side effects of cancer treatment. One main reason for this is reluctance among health care professionals to recommend exercise if there isn’t an established program to refer patients to.  Patients are often concerned about what types of exercise are safe during treatment. They also want to receive guidance from staff that have experience working with cancer survivors.  So we set out to offer a program that met those needs.

The study put a “prescription” pad for the NExT study in the clinic rooms where the medical oncologists would see patients. Over the study, the physicians referred 109 women. The main eligibility requirement was that the woman had to be starting chemotherapy after she had already had the primary surgery for breast cancer. This approach of having the oncologists “prescribe” the NExT study was very successful. When we did a chart review of all the new consultations visits that medical oncologists had while the study was open, the referral rate was 53 per cent, which for a busy oncology clinic is amazing.

Oncologists also reported that being able to offer the program, something positive that patients could do, helped to build rapport with patients during treatment discussions. They liked having a concrete way to refer women to get guidance about being more active and healthy eating. Of the women that were referred to the program, 78 per cent of women enrolled. At one year after finishing the program, we also found that more of them were meeting the Canadian physical activity guidelines than women who hadn’t had cancer.

Currently, we are analyzing the data from this first phase of the study to present the results at scientific conferences and to write scientific papers for medical journals.

Next week, I’ll discuss the impact our participants had on this study.

Thanks for reading,