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PLANETS develops unique exercise pathway for patients to boost recovery

PLANETS Cancer Charity has developed a unique exercise referral pathway for patients to boost recovery from treatment.

It offers patients access to a qualified fitness expert as a routine part of their care following diagnosis.

The dedicated support is provided by Joanne Green who, as well as being a neuroendocrine cancer patient, is a co-founder of the charity and is now its director of operations.

In addition to more than 20 years in the fitness industry, she has a degree in exercise science, a diploma in exercise referral and a specialist qualification in cancer rehabilitation – alongside her own first-hand experience of exercise before, during and after cancer treatment.

Jo was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer – tumours which form in cells that interact with the nervous system or in glands that produce hormones and most commonly affect the pancreas, bowel or lungs – in 2011 and has had multiple operations since.

Her level of fitness allowed her clinical team, led by recently retired surgeon and PLANETS co-founder Neil Pearce, to adopt a radical approach to surgery and resulted in an early return to work, improved quality of life and has kept her disease under control 12 years later.

Over this period, the body of evidence behind ‘prehabilitation’ – a concept which helps patients recover from cancer surgery by increasing fitness levels before their operations – has grown significantly.

Pioneering research carried out at University Hospital Southampton in recent years showed high intensity exercise in the six weeks between chemotherapy and surgery returned patients’ physical fitness to pre-chemotherapy levels before they entered the operating theatre.

Meanwhile, a study from the same group published in 2021 found physical fitness before surgery for cancer of the upper gastrointestinal tract was an indicator of how well the patient recovered from surgery.

It also showed an association between poor fitness and survival a year after the operation, with a reduction in chest wall muscle structure and function linked with a lower chance of survival.

However, while some hospitals offer types of prehabilitation programmes for some specific cancers, it is not currently a standard part of cancer treatment protocols nationally.

“There is increasing evidence to show exercise before, during and after cancer treatment not only boosts the effectiveness of it but also reduces side effects such as fatigue and weight change as well depression and anxiety,” explained Jo.

“However, there is still some work to be done to ensure it is an integral component of a patient’s cancer treatment plan, which is why our charity has established a referral route via clinical nurse specialists to ensure there is additional support to help of advice and guidance.”

She added: “At PLANETS we are in the fortunate position of being able to offer a unique service whereby I am qualified in both fitness and specialist cancer rehabilitation, but am a patient myself experiencing what patients have or are going through.”

Patient John Thompson, from Hedge End in Hampshire, was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2002 at the age of 59 and a secondary liver tumour in 2004 which was successfully removed by Mr Pearce, with John declared cancer-free later that year and considered cured 10 years later.

Following treatment John adopted an exercise programme which has only intensified in recent years and now, at the age of 80, attends weekly aqua and fitness classes, gym sessions, bike rides and walks – while also sea swimming between May and October.

“Following my recovery I wanted to improve my fitness so I joined my local gym and it has all progressed from there. Now, at 80, I feel very fit and, lately, seem to be getting fitter – and I haven’t seen a GP in years.

“It is a pleasure for me to help promote the work of Neil, Jo and the whole PLANETS team – I proudly wear my PLANETS t-shirt during gym sessions – and it is fantastic to see Jo and the charity providing a dedicated exercise referral programme for cancer patients.”

Jo said: “John, like so many of our patients, is such a fantastic advert for how fitness can help with recovery and help patients return to – and maintain – a great quality of life, with his health 21 years on from his diagnosis and treatment truly inspirational.”

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