Prehabilitation in cancer care
- 1 Introduction
- 2 How Is Cancer Treated And/Or Managed?
- 3 How Can Physiotherapy Help?
- 4 Cancer Prehabilitation - What Does It Involve?
- 5 Why Are Physiotherapists Key to Prehabilitation?
- 6 Well-Being and Person-Centred Care – Looking Beyond the Physical Impact
- 7 Evidence for Cancer Prehabilitation
- 8 Working Examples of Prehabilitation in Practice
- 9 Contraindications to Exercise and Prehabilitation in People with Cancer
- 10 References
Over 330,000 patients in the UK are diagnosed with cancer each year, this is forecast to rise by 40% by 2030. Globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports in 2018, cancer is the second leading cause of death and is estimated to account for 9.6 million death. Lung, prostate, colorectal, stomach and liver cancer are the most common types of cancer in men, while breast, colorectal, lung, cervix and thyroid cancer are the most common among women. Outcomes remain particularly poor for those with pancreatic, oesophageal, lung cancers and brain tumours, and many rarer cancers. In 1970 (24%), approximately one quarter of patients would survive cancer, today approximately 50% survive. The goal for the next 25 years is for 75% of people to survive. The WHO estimates that between 30-50% of cancers could be prevented by healthy lifestyle choices such as avoidance of tobacco (responsible for 22% of all cancer related deaths) and immunisation against cancer causing infections. In low income countries, less than 30% reported treatment services were generally available in 2015, compared to 90% in high income countries. Only 14% of people who need palliative care receive it worldwide. 70% of all cancer deaths occur in low and middle income countries. People worldwide are living longer; by 2050 it is anticipated that the world’s population aged 60 years and older is expected to total 2 billion, up from 900 million in 2015. The rising prevalence of cancers worldwide combined with an ageing population signify the need for effective management strategies which support individuals to maintain healthy behaviours throughout life. If these added years are dominated by declines in physical and mental capacity, the implications for older people and for society are more negative.
How Is Cancer Treated And/Or Managed?
Treatment options may include:
- Medicines and/or radiotherapy;
Treatment planning is guided by tumour type, stage and available resources and informed by the preference of the patient.
Palliative care focusing on improving the quality of life of patients and their families is an essential component of cancer care. Accelerated action is needed to improve cancer care, achieve global targets to reduce deaths from cancer and provide health care for all consistent with universal health coverage.
How Can Physiotherapy Help?
There are a wide range of physical and psychological symptoms associated with cancer, which can affect patients for many years following the end of treatment. Regardless of the type or stage of cancer, exercise has been found to improve quality of life for cancer patients including reducing and prevent future health complications and disability which can positively improve an individual’s body image and ability to return to work. Physiotherapists are experts in finding the best ways for cancer patients to be active; this may involve exercise programmes or advice on everyday activities.
Effects of Cancer and Associated Treatments
- Lymphoedema and fatigue is estimated to debilitate 75-95% of all cancer patients; specialist physiotherapy can help to alleviate these symptoms.
- Reduced bone quality can lead to osteoporosis, increased risk of fragility fractures, pain and disability. Physiotherapy exercise can reduce bone loss and the likelihood of falls in patients with poor bone density.
- Pain can lead to a vicious cycle of fear, inactivity and further disability leading to increased length of hospital stay. Physiotherapy has been shown to reduce the length of inpatient stays; representing better quality of life and reduced cost to the National Health Service (NHS).
- Excessive weight gain and loss can be an effect of treatment, stage and type of cancer. Physiotherapy can be beneficial for maintaining a healthy weight and preventing muscle wastage. Evidence shows that exercise reduces the risk of cancer recurrence and mortality.
- Mortality can be reduced by 50%, 40% and 30% in bowel, breast and prostate cancer respectively.
- Disease progression was reduced by 57% in men with prostate cancer who engaged in three hours a week of moderate intensity exercise.
Cancer Prehabilitation - What Does It Involve?
The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Oncology and Palliative Care (ACPOPC) are a professional network of physiotherapists developing and promoting high standards of physiotherapy practice for patients with cancer. They acknowledge the evolving evidence base for prehabilitation and its positive impact on treatment outcomes, recognising the need to front load rehabilitation as a priority for improving cancer outcomes over the next 5 years.
Cancer prehabilitation involves physical and psychological assessments to identify patient’s baseline functional level and possible pre-existing comorbidities. This allows the implementation of appropriate interventions aiming to optimise patient’s health before starting acute treatments. Interventions may include exercise, respiratory physiotherapy, nutritional support and psychological counselling encompassing a multi-modal approach. Tailoring prehabilitation can better prepare cancer patients for the physical and psychological challenges ahead and potentially improve cancer treatment survival outcomes.
Prehabilitation also provides an opportunity for patients to become immediately involved in their own care beyond decision making about future treatments. Cancer prehabilitation offers an opportunity for patients to proactively engage in their rehabilitation process simultaneously improving physical and psychological health outcomes and develop therapeutic relations between patients and therapists.
Prehabilitation can improve patient’s emotional and physical health in the run up to treatment, reduce treatment related morbidity, reduce the length of hospital stays and readmissions and facilitate patient’s return to their highest level of function possible.
Lung cancer patients who initially had insufficient lung function to be candidates for a lobectomy, were able to undergo surgery after intensive prehabilitation including aerobic exercises, breathing exercises, education and smoking cessation, demonstrating the potential of prehabilitation to improve treatment options.
Allowing the patient to actively engage in an exercise prehabilitation program can help alleviate some of the emotional distress associated with cancer treatment. Psychosocial factors such a self-efficacy and mental health prior to surgery can be predictive of future treatment outcomes. When compared to psychological counselling alone, a combined prehabilitation program was more effective in significantly reducing depression and improved physical functioning prior to surgery. Group prehabilitation can also offer social support as well as functional and psychological benefits. Some of the positive effects of prehabilitation in cancer patients:
- Reduce length of stay in hospital
- Reduce post treatment complications
- Enhance recovery following treatment
- Enhance quality of life
- Improve cardiorespiratory fitness
- Improve nutrition
- Improve neuro-cognitive function
Why Are Physiotherapists Key to Prehabilitation?
The types of professionals who assist patients at different levels can potentially vary according to type of prehabilitation need.
The physiotherapist role is important to prehabilitation, particularly in more complex patients. Physiotherapists are identified as the registered professionals most critical to Physical Activity, particularly for complex cases, but all registered professionals can give advice to a degree. Volunteers, support workers, fitness instructors/ personal trainers and rehabilitation/therapy assistants, are identified as key unregistered professionals and can be involved in the prehabilitation of less complex individuals.
|Overview of interventions in prehabilitation|
|There are consistent elements across prehabilitation services. Physical activity is always present, whilst other elements vary in frequency. This is important to be aware of when considering the role of physiotherapists and others in the MDT.|
|Smoking cessation and alcohol reduction||X|
|Medication and comorbidities review||X|
*Based on current evidence, it is suggested that patients should have access to physical activity, dietary and psychological support as a minimum.
Different professionals can prescribe physical activity but registered physiotherapists have the tools to provide a multi-faceted approach to prehabilitation e.g. combining physical activity, respiratory exercises and aid in lymphoedema management. This also emphasises the importance of MDT working in prehabilitation and the importance of other professionals who can also play a part in informing patients and emphasising the importance of physical activity. Delivery is naturally driven by involvement of a range of professionals. A multidisciplinary team has been highlighted as an integral part of promoting the best care for cancer patients.
Well-Being and Person-Centred Care – Looking Beyond the Physical Impact
Physiotherapists are identified as having a core role in psychological well-being by providing a patient-centred approach to care, Physiotherapists are involved in exploring expectations and goals that are specific to each individual in order to find out what is most valuable to them. Facilitating this dialogue with patients is key to supporting long-term conditions and provides psychological support. Optimising communication between patients and health professionals is a vital component of patient centred care, which has been shown to correlate with improved patient outcomes when effective (Epstein and Street, 2007). Requirements often cited as necessary for effective working with cancer patients include high levels of compassion, sensitivity and empathy within excellent communication skills. Emotional resilience is also required in helping patients during this very difficult time, hence it is important to consider these ‘soft skills’ when working with cancer patients.
Standard pre-treatment care is part of the wider offering of prehabilitation. Standard care involves medical preparations, whereas prehabilitation looks at the wider wellbeing of the patient and often has greater professional involvement. With prehabilitation, patients have greater professional involvement and a personalised regime. This may allow them to feel more motivated than with standard care, as they are more actively involved in their own wellbeing and recovery. Combined with the effect of looking at a patient’s wider wellbeing, this could lead to better outcomes for the individual.
Physical activity is a key intervention of prehabilitation, but what differentiates it from standard care is increased involvement of professionals and an organised plan of exercise. This can lead to greater engagement of patients as they are actively involved in their own wellbeing, which can lead to improved outcomes as a result. Physiotherapists play a key role in the holistic approach to prehabilitation, providing mental and physical support to improve quality of life, function and overall experience in preparation for cancer treatment.
Evidence for Cancer Prehabilitation
Prehabilitation exercise interventions tend to focus on cardiovascular health and/or muscle strengthening before and during treatment or surgery. Internventions have been found to demonstrate a range of benefits for patients living with a range of cancer types. Pre-surgery interventions have more commonly been investigated than other cancer treatments. Optimal prescription and implementation of such programmes are yet to be determined and may vary for cancer treatment and type, with a range of location, length and modalities included in current prehabilitation interventions.
Examples of prehabilitation in reducing secondary complications:
- Reduced pulmonary complications patients with abdominal cancer through improving physical fitness.
- Lower post-operative length of stay and intercostal catheter use with preoperative exercise training in lung cancer.
- Improved postoperative continence following prostatectomy at 3 months with pre-operative pelvic floor muscle training.
- Lower incidence of respiratory complications and reduced length of stay in lung cancer patients post re-section with strength and aerobic training.
Examples of prehabilitation in Improving physical and non-physical outcomes:
- Prehabilitation involving strength and endurance exercises was found to improve mobilility and activities of daily living in patients with bladder cancer.
- Tailored walking and cycling programmes improved cardiorespiratory fitness prior to abdominal surgery including abdominal cancers.
- Exercise prehabilitation prior to lung cancer surgery has been found to improve post-surgical 6MW distances as well as functional capacity.
- Prehabilitation involving a yoga intervention reduced patient anxiety and reduced distress and symptom severity in breast cancer patients.
Examples of prehabilitation in broadening treatment possibilities:
- Prehabilitation involving resistance and aerobic training improved tolerance of chemotherapy dose and chemotherapy completion (correlated with patient survival) in breast cancer patients.
- Prehabilitation to increase range of motion at the shoulder joint, where maintenance of abduction and external rotation are necessary for chemotherapy, increased tolerance of radiation treatment in breast cancer patients.
Working Examples of Prehabilitation in Practice
The Royal County Hospital Guilford, a specialist hospital for cancer treatment, have developed a multimodal prehabilitation service in a two year prehabilitation pilot service. This provides cancer patients preparing for surgery with physiotherapy, occupational therapy and dietetic support aiming to improve post-operative recovery. Patients having treatment and awaiting surgery for urological, gynaecological, hepato-pancreatic-biliary cancers, cervical, pancreatic, and bladder cancers were included in the programme. Physiotherapy input consisted of 5 weeks of physiotherapy exercise classes and home exercise programmes focusing on strength training and cardiovascular fitness. Outcome measure including six minute walk test, sit-to-stand in 60 seconds, and hand-grip strength were assessed before and after the programme.
Exercises included walking swimming and cycling as well and upper and lower body strength exercises. Physiotherapists aimed to empower patients to confidently complete the exercises at home. Final assessments found improvements in 6 minute walk test, sit to stand and reduced length of hospital stay following surgery (Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, 2018).
Across the NHS there are multiple pilot services for prehabilitation for cancer treatment:
- Men with prostate cancer are being offered prehabilitation for continence related problems following surgery in Belfast.
- PREPARE is a programme dedicated to oesophago-gastric surgery prehabilitation. The programme includes multiple interventions -Physical fitness, Respiratory exercises, Eat well, Psychological well-being, Ask about medications, Remove bad habits, and Enhanced recovery after treatment.
The below table gives examples of how prehabilitation could be implemented into the current cancer pathway.
Contraindications to Exercise and Prehabilitation in People with Cancer
There should be caution taken where individuals have certain types of cancer or are having certain types of treatment. For example, if cancer has spread to bone, or during treatments associated with reduced immunity or reduction in normal blood counts. In these situations, the advice of the oncology team should be sought.
|Potential adverse effect||Safety principles|
|Exacerbation of symptoms (e.g. pain, fatigue, nausea, dyspnoea)||
- Beating Cancer Sooner - Our Strategy Highlights. Cancer UK, 2014. (Accessed 18th November 2019)
- World Health Organization. World report on ageing and health. World Health Organization; 2018 Feb 5
- World Health Organisation (WHO) (2019). ‘Cancer’. (Accessed 18th November 2019)
- Physiotherapy works: cancer survivorship. Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP) (2012) (Accessed 24th November 2019)
- Silver JK, Baima J. Cancer prehabilitation: an opportunity to decrease treatment-related morbidity, increase cancer treatment options, and improve physical and psychological health outcomes. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation. 2013 Aug 1;92(8):715-27.
- Cesario A, Ferri L, Galetta D, Pasqua F, Bonassi S, Clini E, Biscione G, Cardaci V, Di Toro S, Zarzana A, Margaritora S. Post-operative respiratory rehabilitation after lung resection for non-small cell lung cancer. Lung cancer. 2007 Aug 1;57(2):175-80.
- Carli F, Charlebois P, Stein B, Feldman L, Zavorsky G, Kim DJ, Scott S, Mayo NE. Randomized clinical trial of prehabilitation in colorectal surgery. British Journal of Surgery. 2010 Aug;97(8):1187-97.
- Stevinson C, Campbell A, Cavill N, Foster J. Physical activity and cancer—a concise evidence review. SUPPORT, MC (ed.). 2017.
- Furze G, Dumville JC, Miles JN, Irvine K, Thompson DR, Lewin RJ. “Prehabilitation” prior to CABG surgery improves physical functioning and depression. International journal of cardiology. 2009 Feb 6;132(1):51-8.
- Ferreira V, Agnihotram RV, Bergdahl A, van Rooijen SJ, Awasthi R, Carli F, Scheede-Bergdahl C. Maximizing patient adherence to prehabilitation: what do the patients say?. Supportive Care in Cancer. 2018 Aug 1;26(8):2717-23.
- Macmillan Cancer Support. Prehabilitation for people with cancer: principles and guidance for prehabilitation within the management and support of people with cancer. 2019.
- Recovering After Breast Cancer Thanks to Prehab. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooBMrUYso6w [last accessed 5/01/2020]
- Bancroft MI. Physiotherapy in cancer rehabilitation: a theoretical approach. Physiotherapy. 2003 Dec 1;89(12):729-33.
- Mazor KM, Gaglio B, Nekhlyudov L, Alexander GL, Stark A, Hornbrook MC, Walsh K, Boggs J, Lemay CA, Firneno C, Biggins C. Assessing patient-centered communication in cancer care: stakeholder perspectives. Journal of oncology practice. 2013 May 14;9(5):e186-93.
- Minnella EM, Bousquet-Dion G, Awasthi R, Scheede-Bergdahl C, Carli F. Multimodal prehabilitation improves functional capacity before and after colorectal surgery for cancer: a five-year research experience. Acta oncologica. 2017 Feb 1;56(2):295-300.
- Cavalheri V, Granger C. Preoperative exercise training for patients with non‐small cell lung cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2017(6).
- Chang JI, Lam V, Patel MI. Preoperative pelvic floor muscle exercise and postprostatectomy incontinence: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European urology. 2016 Mar 1;69(3):460-7.
- Rodriguez-Larrad A, Lascurain-Aguirrebena I, Abecia-Inchaurregui LC, Seco J. Perioperative physiotherapy in patients undergoing lung cancer resection. Interactive cardiovascular and thoracic surgery. 2014 May 12;19(2):269-81.
- Bloom E. Prehabilitation evidence and insight review.
- Hijazi Y, Gondal U, Aziz O. A systematic review of prehabilitation programs in abdominal cancer surgery. International journal of surgery. 2017 Mar 1;39:156-62.
- Rao MR, Raghuram N, Nagendra HR, Gopinath KS, Srinath BS, Diwakar RB, Patil S, Bilimagga SR, Rao N, Varambally S. Anxiolytic effects of a yoga program in early breast cancer patients undergoing conventional treatment: a randomized controlled trial. Complementary therapies in medicine. 2009 Jan 1;17(1):1-8.
- Courneya KS, Segal RJ, Mackey JR, Gelmon K, Reid RD, Friedenreich CM, Ladha AB, Proulx C, Vallance JK, Lane K, Yasui Y. Effects of aerobic and resistance exercise in breast cancer patients receiving adjuvant chemotherapy: a multicenter randomized controlled trial. Journal of clinical oncology. 2007 Oct 1;25(28):4396-404.