Friday, January 15, 2016

Lifestyle medicine clinic opens for cancer patients

Under the direction of Elizabeth O’Donnell, MD, oncologist in the MGH Cancer Center and associate director of the Cancer Center’s Survivorship Program, the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic recently launched at the MGH and MGHWest in Waltham. In addition to the cardiovascular health, mood and weight-control benefits of exercise, there is growing evidence that it helps cancer patients both during treatment and afterward.

“We know with breast cancer, for example, that those who meet the recommended 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise weekly have a 50 percent lower chance of cancer recurrence and mortality,” says O’Donnell.“That’s a big number. The numbers are similar for colon cancer patients, too.”

Many patients ask what exercises they can do or dietary changes they can make to improve their odds, O’Donnell says. But medical appointments, by necessity, focus on treatment progress and the latest imaging results. “People with a cancer diagnosis have a lot to deal with,” she says. “This is a one-time visit with me to provide exercise counseling for those who want it, not something they must do.”

Lifestyle medicine helps patients cope and recover successfully, perhaps becoming even healthier than they were before cancer. O’Donnell hopes more patients will realize that they can safely reap the benefits of exercise. Cancer patients often experience fatigue and may think that exercise is the last thing they feel like doing. But, in fact, “exercise decreases this fatigue,” she says.

Each cancer is different and the benefits and the type of exercise prescribed will likely vary, she says. Part of the clinic’s mission will be to conduct clinical research to better understand the benefits that apply to each type of cancer. She also hopes to collaborate with other MGH specialists – in cardiology, sports medicine and physical therapy – who are using exercise in treatment and research.

O’Donnell’s clinical practice specializes in multiple myeloma, an incurable bone marrow cancer that can be controlled by lifelong treatment with a steroid called dexamethasone. But a side effect of
long-term exposure to this steroid is a decrease in muscle and an increase in fat. “I’ve seen patients who have been on steroids a long time or been through chemotherapy who have difficulty rising from a chair or even preparing food,” she says. “I’d like to help them use exercise to get back their strength and life enjoyment, whether that’s to play with their grandchildren or go on walks.” 



Read more articles from the 01/15/16 Hotline issue.

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