Starting exercise prior to cancer treatment can pay off

Cancer can have a lasting effect on a patient. That’s why rehabilitation is often so important after cancer treatment or surgery. But how would a patient fare if physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT) came before any cancer care? That’s a question a multidisciplinary team at MD Anderson continues to explore through prehabilitation, or prehab. Prehab is used to help improve the strength, endurance and functional capacity of patients following the initial diagnosis. It can be personalized to meet a patient’s individual needs and, much like MD Anderson’s enhanced recovery efforts, some preliminary research on prehab has documented improved results for patients. Prehabilitation was first implemented at MD Anderson as a research trial that included pancreatic cancer patients who were preparing for surgery. Other clinicians expressed interest in this concept, and a clinical pathway for prehabilitation was started in 2015. Select surgical patients were seen in the Supportive Care Center by the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physicians and PT. Since that time, prehab has continued to gain momentum in cancer care and is now being used in the care of a few of our stem cell transplant patients. “Many cancer patients who come to us are weak and frail, even prior to chemotherapy or surgery. Our goal is to optimize their care by improving their strength and endurance beforehand,” says An Ngo-Huang, D.O., assistant professor of Palliative, Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine. “We have the ability to focus on strengthening certain muscles to improve their functional deficits, manage issues that hinder their ability to exercise and also to help ease stress by preparing them mentally for what to expect throughout their cancer...