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Pioneering exercise programme to aid cancer patients

Our critical care research team has been awarded £2.3 million for a new scheme providing pre-surgery exercise sessions for cancer patients in the local community, at gyms and cancer support centres, to improve their recovery after surgery.

The WesFit study, run by Dr Sandy Jack in partnership with the Wessex Cancer Alliance, the Wessex Cancer Trust and the council, has been awarded £2.3 million to use exercise to improve patients’ wellbeing before, during and after cancer treatment.

This follows research by the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre’s critical care team, led by Professor Mike Grocott, which has shown that a tailored exercise programme for cancer patients can improve physical fitness and outcomes from surgery.

In their latest study, known as WesFit, the team is looking to roll out the scheme on a larger scale, expanding from a clinical setting into the wider community.

Exercise as medicine

Patients who are physically fitter recover from surgery better, and previous research by the team has found a six-week exercise programme based at the hospital has been extremely successful with small groups of cancer patients.

So far, patients who completed this exercise training have returned to pre-treatment levels of fitness, or even improved and gained a healthier lifestyle. In comparison, those who didn’t complete training found that their fitness levels dropped after chemotherapy or remained relatively similar to pre-treatment.

Moving into the community

Now that it has been shown to have such beneficial effects, the team are looking to scale up the exercise programme to see if it can be introduced as an NHS service for cancer patients.

WesFit is a unique partnership that will see the researchers work with gyms and cancer support centres to roll out a larger scale study across Wessex. The study aims to look not just at the effects of exercise on the physical health and fitness of the cancer patients, but also their quality of life during treatment and recovery.

Participants will either have exercise training on a bike three times a week, psychological support, or a combination of both. The exercise programme will be delivered by personal trainers who are qualified to support cancer patients.

If successful, the researchers hope that the programme could become a widely available NHS service to help cancer patients prepare for surgery by getting fit.


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