BY CATHERINE NGUYEN
Muscle loss can occur as a result of the cancer itself and the cancer treatments, and should be minimised as much as possible. In addition to helping you look and feel better, muscles play an important part in your cancer survivorship.
A study published in JAMA Oncology which followed 3,241 patients, found that women with low muscle mass had a lesser chance of surviving stage 2 or stage 3 breast cancer. The authors also observed a linkage between high muscle mass and improved survival for patients with a variety of solid tumours.
Patients who have more muscle mass typically cope better during cancer treatment, and tend to recover more quickly from treatment as well.
“Maintaining and increasing muscle mass are recommended for all cancer survivors during and after treatment”, says the American College of Sports Medicine.
Resistance or Strength Exercise
The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia recommends that cancer patients and cancer survivors participate in
- at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity physical activity, and
- two to three resistance exercise sessions each week targeting the major muscle groups
Resistance training helps to improve bone density and lean muscle mass, and is particularly helpful in minimising muscle loss.
Resistance exercise does not have to involve spending hours in the gym lifting weights or using machines. Simple exercises that can be done at home using your own body weight include push-ups, abdominal crunches, lunges, and step-ups. You can also use resistance bands to improve muscle health.
Some examples of exercises and how to do them are also available here.
It is important to consult your doctor before starting resistance exercises to understand what your body can handle.
Accredited exercise physiologists or physiotherapists can design exercise programs which are tailored to your abilities and health status. Please talk to your GP for a referral to access these services as part of your treatment plan. These services are eligible for subsidies through Medicare and private health insurance.
What else can you do?
According to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, protein (commonly known as the building block for muscles) and good nutrition can also assist with maintaining muscle mass.
There are numerous protein options to suit your dietary requirements. Apart from fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products, there are also non-animal based choices such as beans, nuts, Greek yoghurt, quinoa, buckwheat, tofu and brown rice etc. Smoothies or protein shakes are also helpful if you have trouble digesting.
Protein should be considered in conjunction with good nutrition for a well-balanced and healthy diet. Please consult your nutritionist to develop a plan that is most appropriate for you.
It is also important to drink lots of fluid, especially water, throughout the day to keep yourself hydrated.
If you are currently undergoing cancer treatment or are a cancer survivor, we cordially invite you to attend our nutrition course, Chemotherapy & Nutrition, on September 18. Our nutritionist Clemency Nicholson will go through what to eat, how to eat, side effects you can expect as well as maintaining a nutritional diet during survivorship. For more information, click here.
Catherine has been volunteering with Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre since 2017, and joined Solaris Cancer Care as a blog writer in early August 2020. She lost both her father and her husband to cancer, and the experiences changed her life. Catherine developed a passion for researching all matters relating to cancer during her husband’s fight, and is keen to continue building on her knowledge and using it to help others.