A study of 600 cancer patients has found the most unwell responded best to an exercise intervention program.
Cancer patients who would respond the best to exercise are the least likely to be prescribed the intervention, fear experts.
A new Australian study has found the most unwell cancer patients have the most to gain from getting active, leading to calls for exercise to become part of routine clinical care.
Researchers at the Australian Catholic University assessed the physical function, fatigue, distress and quality of life of more than 600 patients with up to 40 types of cancer before and after a three-month exercise program, to uncover the impact of exercise.
About a third of participants were receiving cancer treatment and two-thirds had just finished treatment with the past two years. All took part in twice-weekly exercise sessions at community based gyms supervised by an exercise physiologist.
"Our study showed that the people with cancer who benefit the most from a structured exercise program, are actually those who are the most tired, distressed and physically impaired," said lead researcher Associate Professor Prue Cormie.
The benefits included improved physical fitness and function, reduced cancer-related fatigue and psychological distress, and better overall quality of life.
"We found the ones who responded the most, who had the most reduction in fatigue, the most reduction in distress, improvement in their quality of life were actually the ones who had the highest level of symptoms at the start," Assoc Prof Cormie told AAP.
The findings, presented at the at the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia's Annual Scientific Meeting in Sydney on Tuesday, has raised concerns the patients who need such intervention the most are missing out.
"We suspect that many clinicians hold back from telling their most unwell patients to exercise, because it seems counterintuitive. This research shows even if patients are experiencing significant side effects and symptoms, exercise can be tailored specifically for them and provide substantial benefits," said Assoc Prof Cormie.
She says its time clinicians change their thinking because "if you could put all the effects of exercise in a pill it would be the most widely prescribed prescription medication."