Exercise Helps Cancer Patients

Cancer of the head and neck targeted exercise improves function

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) A small trial shows that rehabilitation therapy for head and neck cancer patients clearly improves their ability to swallow faster, something that's often damaged with the cancer treatment.

Intense treatment for cancers of the head and neck often involves both chemotherapy and radiation.

With many important muscles involved in the region, preventing the areas targeted by radiation from weakening can be avoided with swallowing exercises.

"Ask your oncologist about suitable rehabilitation."

The study compared a control group given no swallowing exercises to another group given the series of targeted rehabilitation therapy. It took nine months for the two groups to have equivalent ability, highlighting the importance of preserving muscle function prior to cancer treatment.

Importantly, rehabilitation after cancer treatment can prevent some of the worst side effects, and allows patients to get back to their normal day to day life.

The initial damage from cancer treatment was extensive, as both groups had equal ability immediately after cancer therapy. Yet the muscle function rebounded quickly in the rehabilitation group, as results at 3 and 6 months after treatment were improved as a result of the swallowing exercises.

The group given exercises also rated themselves as more comfortable eating in public, an important qualifier in showing how well the exercises worked.

"With improvements in swallowing function from post-treatment exercises, interest in the use of prophylactic swallowing exercises to prevent or minimize post-CRT swallowing dysfunction has grown" the authors write as background in the study.

"Indeed, some cancer treatment centers recommend prophylactic swallowing exercises for all their patients undergoing CRT."

The study design used 26 patients that underwent chemotherapy and radiation for cancers of the head and neck, split into two equal groups.

Study authors recommended further trials, but given the low cost of rehabilitation therapy in comparison to the costs associated with chemotherapy and radiation treatment of cancers, it is hard to see why all head and neck cancer patients shouldn't be given exercises to prevent complications after treatment.

The trial results were published online in the April edition of the Archives of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery.

Financial relationships regarding the study authors was not disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 25, 2012
Last Updated:
May 8, 2012