This goes without saying - cancer is bad, and not only because it is a life-threatening disease but also because of the severe side effects of the treatment options. And one of the most commonly debilitating aspects of cancer and its treatment is fatigue. Anyone who has ever dealt with cancer will tell you that exhaustion can make life very difficult. So Doctor Karen Mustian's suggestions that cancer patients should pursue more active lives are likely to be met with irritation and derision. It might seem as if the associate professor (University of Rochester Medical Center, New York) clearly doesn't understand that exercise and cancer do not mix. Clearly, the best way to fight fatigue in cancer patients is to prescribe whatever high-end drug the medical arena has to offer.
Unfortunately for those negative voices, though, Karen has a very good reason for encouraging cancer patients to start doing more exercise.
If you are a doctor, you have probably encouraged your cancer patient to take life a little easier. You have also probably been quick to prescribe chemical drugs that you believe might overcome their fatigue in the short run. However, according to a study done by Karen's team, coming out of the Cancer Control Program in the Department of Surgery at Rochester University, that might be a mistake.
Cancer patients typically struggle with a lack of energy, not to mention confusion, poor cognitive function, and depression. All these factors tend to discourage cancer patients from doing everyday activities. And in the long run, their quality of life is debilitated which, in turn, might even discourage these patients from completing their cancer treatments.
Karen thinks that exercise, complemented by psychological therapy, could help patients overcome their fatigue in a more effective manner than drugs. That isn’t to say that medication cannot effectively combat fatigue. However, most medications of this kind come with potentially dangerous side effects, and this is especially true for drugs that fight cancer-related fatigue.
Karen’s study, whose results were published on JAMA Oncology, suggests a safer method of beating fatigue. Through data collected from randomized clinical trials that explored the impact of physical activity and medication, Karen was able to study over 10,000 cancer patients who had complained about cancer-related fatigue. The study included both men and women between the ages of 35 and 72.
Using fatigue assessments like the Piper Fatigue Scale, Karen found that drugs like Ritalin and Modafinil were not nearly as effective at fighting fatigue as exercise and psychological therapies. According to Karen, because cancer patients take more medications than usual, adding another regiment of fatigue-fighting drugs to their load is unlikely to deliver the expected results.
Karen believes that doctors should take their focus off drug treatments when it comes to cancer-related fatigue. Instead, they should only recommending chemical drugs to cancer patients when their fatigue refuses to subside even in the face of proper exercises and psychological therapy.