Dr. Kathryn Schmitz on Physical Activity, Lymphedema and Cancer Survivors

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YouTube Preview ImageAt our Research Conference last week, we were honored to have Kathryn H. Schmitz, PhD, MPH, FACSM give a talk on strategies for promoting physical activity among cancer survivors.

It was Dr. Schmitz’s PAL (Physical Activity and Lymphedema) Trial that showed that survivors with lymphedema (swelling of the limbs) could benefit from gradual, closely supervised weight training – a finding that challenged the conventional wisdom that lymphedema sufferers should avoid weight-bearing exercise.  She published her findings in the August issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.  We profiled this research in the latest issue of AICR’s ScienceNow newsletter.

But that doesn’t mean that women who have, or who are at high risk for lymphedema, should just head to the gym and start lifting away.  We caught up with Dr. Schmitz at lunch, and she talked about two online resources to help these women get the guidance they need.

www.lymphnet.org – The National Lymphedema Network. Find physical therapists trained in lymphedema issues.

www.strengthandcourage.net – Order a DVD on exercise after breast cancer surgery – includes many of the exercises used in Dr. Schmitz’s PAL trial.

For more general advice about diet and physical activity during and after cancer, don’t forget to check out the AICR/New York Presbyterian Hospital DVD, Food For the Fight: Guidelines for Healthy Nutrition During and After Cancer Treatment

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    Cancer Rehab: A Growing Demand

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    More than 14 percent of cancer survivors were first diagnosed more than 20 years ago? That’s why survivors’ visibility is growing, said Julia H. Rowland, PhD, Director of the National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Survivorship, along with public demand for rehabilitation programs akin to cardiac patient programs.

    “We can’t just ‘treat and street’ anymore,” she said.

    Helping people learn what they can do to help themselves stay well with diet, nutrition and physical activity is key to helping them manage cancer and succeed at survivorship. “We need to inform survivors and their families of of cancer prevention strategies because behaviors occur in the context of families,” she added. Leveraging the support of other cancer survivors holds much potential for cancer rehab programs in the future–combined with health care professionals, the insurance industry and government as a prevention and cost-saving measure. Studies are beginning to look at people living longer with cancer and additional health problems that develop with aging.

    Registered Dietitian Diana Dyer — a nationally recognized 2-time breast cancer survivor whose endowment benefits AICR — said to “Separate hope from hype or harm” — advice to cancer patients who are overwhelmed by the tidal wave of information when first diagnosed. “Plant foods are powerful,” she said. Making nutrition guidance for survivors a priority is being boosted by a new oncology certification for dietitians offered by the American Dietetic Association.

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      Should Cancer Survivors Exercise?

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      Is it important for cancer survivors to exercise?  Dr. Melinda Irwin summarized observational studies which all showed a decreased risk of cancer recurrence with physical activity.  The good news is that all levels of exercise showed benefit.  Those who met the U.S. physical activity guidelines showed greatest benefits.  So – grab your sneakers and take a walk!

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