Make your voice heard: Participate in research on exercise as part of cancer care
We sat down with implementation science and exercise oncology researcher Dr Mary Kennedy from Edith Cowan University to talk about two exciting projects she is running with GenesisCare, WA, that you can get involved in. Dr Kennedy has spent a decade working with physicians to offer evidence-based exercise programs to patients across a range of institutions, both in Australia and overseas.
Exercise and cancer care - do they even go together?
When you hear the term ‘exercise’ it may conjure images of boot camps, gym classes or personal trainers - however, Dr Kennedy explained that the type of exercise we are talking about is so much more. Instead of topline advice to ‘exercise more and eat better’, it’s “personalised appointments with an accredited exercise physiologist who has experience in working with cancer patients. As part of their four year degree they have undergone clinical rotations and like other health professionals they must keep up to date with professional development”. An appointment with an exercise physiologist as part of standard cancer care aims to create a tailored exercise ‘prescription’ as part of your overall treatment plan that takes into account your cancer, its treatment and any potential side effects.
Dr Kennedy described the evidence for including exercise as part of cancer care, stating “the first studies came out in the 1980s - and it has exploded exponentially over the last two decades. There was so much growth in the field that a panel of experts led by the American College of Sports Medicine reviewed the evidence in 2019, which led to the development of exercise guidelines.1 In 2022, the American Society of Clinical Oncology - the world's leading professional organization for physicians and oncology professionals caring for people with cancer - did an independent review and created clinician guidelines on exercise, diet and weight management during cancer treatment”.2
However, according to Dr Kennedy in Australia we “do not have the infrastructure to make that happen”. 3 The Western Australia Department of Health has awarded Dr Kennedy, in collaboration with GenesisCare, a research grant to facilitate exercise being embedded into care for all people receiving cancer treatment in the South West and to help clarify the value of exercise for patients using a value-based framework that considers the perspective of the patient.This project was co-funded by the Future Health Research and Innovation Fund through the Implementation Science Fellowships 2021 program. A second grant from the University of Queensland was awarded with the goal of assessing the value of sustainable translation of exercise oncology interventions.
What are the projects?
The first is the Patient Experience of Care survey. Dr Kennedy described its aim is to “look at the South West region of WA and understand how we can integrate exercise and nutrition into cancer care in this region. The project will run for three years, and the first year is all about exploration because we can’t make changes until we understand what needs to be changed.”
If you have received treatment at any GenesisCare location in the southwest region of WA in the past year - we want to hear from you! Dr Kennedy explained “we’re asking about the supportive care services patients have received - did you receive exercise or nutrition advice, what was your experience of that, if you didn’t what would you have liked to see? We will be following up with focus groups to help us understand how we could make a service that patients would want”. The next step will be taking the results of these conversations to cancer care providers in the region as well as a consumer advisory board and working together to integrate evidence-based exercise into existing treatment pathways.
The second project is the Community Conversation which Dr Kennedy explained was “in partnership with Dr Kim Edmonds, a health economist from the University of Queensland. The overarching goal of this project is to get better reimbursement for exercise as part of cancer care”. Similar to the Patient Experience of Care survey, the first step is understanding the potential value of an exercise program from various points of view - the patient, the provider, the costs and the outcomes. This information forms the evidence that decisions on policy and treatment can be based upon.
If you have had an appointment with a GenesisCare exercise physiologist at the Joondalup centre then we want to hear from you! Dr Kennedy pointed out “we’ve had exercise integrated in care in Perth for a few years and we are continually learning how to do that better. We want to use this conversation first to understand what the value is from the patient’s point of view - what information is it that they need to adopt exercise as part of their treatment? Do they need resources? How do we structure the conversation? Ultimately we want to help patients onto a path towards integrating exercise as part of their long-term health”.
Dr Kennedy summarised the importance of these programs, saying “too often research dollars come into a community like this, you do something amazing, test it and then leave and the program may end because the resources to support it are no longer available. These projects are intended to live far beyond the research dollars, with the intention that they actually become embedded into the community and local organisational policies. We want to create feasible and sustainable programs that patients can benefit from”.