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Macmillan Cancer Support says ‘don’t tell cancer patients to take it easy’

Family and friends could be doing more harm than good by insisting people with cancer ‘take it easy’ when they are going through treatment and recovery, a leading charity warns today.

Macmillan Cancer Support says that family and friends have a crucial role in supporting people to become physically active, which evidence shows significantly benefits recovery and can avoid the disease progressing.i

The call comes as a new survey conducted by YouGov for Macmillan Cancer Supportii has foundiii that 62 per cent of people living with cancer in Wales say that having family and friends as company when exercising would do more to help them become more physically active.

A growing body of evidence shows that physical activity helps, not only to manage the often devastating consequences of treatment such as fatigue, depression and heart damage, but also to reduce the risk of the disease worsening, recurring or causing death in cancer patients.

Research shows, for example, that breast cancer patient’s risk of recurrence and of dying from the disease can be reduced by up to 40% by doing recommended levels of physical activity.iv

Despite this, family and friends are more likely to tell someone with cancer to rest than encourage them to do more physical activity, figures show.v

Jane Newman, 50, from Wrexham, was diagnosed with colon cancer and says physical activity has been key to her return to fitness – she swims, cycles and goes to the gym every week.

“I experienced severe fatigue during my treatment, but I realised fairly quickly that the more I did nothing, the more tired and fatigued I felt. In all, I’ve gone from being out of breath just after climbing the stairs at home to exercising every week.

“I’ve met a number of cancer patients during and after treatment and so many tell me they experience the same level of fatigue as I have. If only they would devote some time to doing exercise a couple of times a week, I think everyone would benefit both mentally and physically.”

Arry Beresford-Webb, Macmillan Wales Physical Activity Manager, said: “Being physically active is a hugely important part of someone’s recovery from cancer, and family and friends must make sure that no one faces this often long, hard journey alone.

“It’s natural to tell people to take it easy when they have cancer, but we know that this isn’t the best thing for many people. By encouraging someone with cancer to get active, family and friends can play an invaluable part in helping them get their life back.

“It is vital for both individuals, as well as the future of the NHS that people with cancer are able to take control of their health.”

Professor Jane Maher, Joint Chief Medical Officer at Macmillan Cancer Support and leading clinical oncologist said:

“I would advise my own patients to consider getting active at any stage; whether they are in the middle of treatment or on the road to recovery. Everybody is different, and we are not telling everyone to go rushing about in Lycra; just doing a few exercises or walking a few more steps each day can make a big difference to people with cancer.

“As healthcare professionals we have an important role in advising people with cancer to get moving, and because of the undeniable case for being active, this is increasingly being recognised. But we can’t underestimate the role that loved ones play in encouraging and supporting people with cancer in this way.

“The evidence is there and we simply can’t ignore it. Being physically active could very well save your life – and this is the message we should be getting out to people affected by this horrible disease.”

Macmillan Cancer Support has developed a Move More support pack, and its own physical activity scheme that are both designed to help people with cancer get active to a level that is right for them. The charity has also developed a ‘Get Active, Feel Good’ exercise DVD tailored to people living with cancer: http://be.macmillan.org.uk/be/p-20843-get-active-feel-good-exercise-dvd.aspx.

For more information on physical activity and cancer visit www.macmillan.org.uk/movemore.