Can Cancer Patients Build Muscle?

Training against cachexia

The times when cancer patients were prescribed rest and rest are over. Sport and exercise increase the physical performance and quality of life of the sick. Recent studies also indicate that in addition to endurance training, targeted strength training also has additional positive effects. It counteracts muscle breakdown, tumor cachexia and fatigue.

Sport is already very important in cancer rehabilitation. In the meantime, there is increasing scientific evidence that appropriate exercise can already be useful in the treatment phase, i.e. during chemotherapy. Even under the most aggressive drug therapies and radiation with subsequent stem cell transplantation in leukemia patients, movement training could be carried out successfully, as the Berlin sports doctor Fernando Dimeo from the Charité has shown.

The patients completed a bicycle ergometer training lying down in the hospital bed. Despite drastic therapy, they were able to maintain their muscle strength and improve their quality of life. The training not only led to better physical fitness and less psychological stress, says Dimeo, but it also reduced treatment-related complaints during chemotherapy and radiation therapy such as nausea, exhaustion, sleep disorders and pain.

Strength training against muscle wasting

How does strength training affect breast cancer patients? Scientists at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg and the German Sport University in Cologne investigated this question in a pilot study in cooperation with the University Women's Clinic. After a thorough sports medical examination, they had completed a device-supported full-body training session for three months, twice a week, for one hour each time. This meant that they could keep their strength level in the arm on the operated side.

The DKFZ scientists together with colleagues from the Heidelberg University Surgical Clinic examined the effects of targeted strength training in cancer patients with tumor cachexia. In about half of the patients with pancreatic cancer, tumor cachexia ultimately leads to death, says study director Dr. Holger Krakowski-Roosen from the DKFZ of "nutrition". The process of emaciation is characterized by muscle wasting due to "net proteolysis", which cannot be adequately absorbed by nutritional substitution. Cachectic cancer patients with different tumor types were included in the pilot study. Over the course of eight weeks, the thigh muscles in particular were trained with a combination of isometric and isokinetic muscle contractions. The participants had not only put on significantly - by four percent - in weight, but the muscle strength of the cachectic patients could be increased by up to a fifth, according to the sports scientist.

KEYWORD

Sports therapy for cancer

Strength and endurance training complement each other in sports therapy for cancer patients. While endurance training improves the metabolism, the formation of new blood vessels and the transport of oxygen in the muscles, strength training specifically stimulates the build-up of muscle mass and thus counteracts the breakdown process and weight loss. A detailed sports medical initial examination is just as important as individual and close monitoring depending on the stage of the disease during the training phase. (bd)