Exercise May Prevent the Nerve Damage That Comes With Chemotherapy

Simple exercises performed during rounds of chemotherapy can help people avoid nerve damage normally associated with the cancer-killing drugs, a new study suggests.

About twice as many cancer patients on chemo wound up with long-lasting nerve damage if they didn’t exercise, compared with two groups assigned different exercise regimens, researchers reported July 1 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

“The potential of physical activity is hugely underestimated,” lead researcher Fiona Streckmann, a research assistant at the University of Basel in Switzerland, said in a news release.

About 70% to 90% of people who get chemo complain of pain, balance issues or feelings of numbness, burning or tingling, researchers said in background notes.

These nerve symptoms can disappear after cancer treatment, but about half the time they endure.

For the study, researchers recruited 158 cancer patients receiving one of two chemo drugs, oxaliplatin or vinca-alkaloids, and divided them into three groups.

Two groups completed exercise sessions twice a week during their chemotherapy, each lasting 15 to 30 minutes. One group exercised while balancing on an unstable surface, and the other exercised on a vibration plate.

The third group received standard care, with no exercise regimen.

Regular exams over the next five years showed that the exercises performed alongside chemo reduced the incidence of nerve damage by 50% to 70%, researchers said.

Exercise also improved patients’ quality of life, helped them endure heavy doses of chemo and reduced their risk of death.

Nerve damage related to chemo “has a direct influence on clinical treatment,” Streckmann said. “For example, patients may not be able to receive the planned number of chemotherapy cycles that they actually need, the dosage of neurotoxic agents in the chemotherapy may have to be reduced, or their treatment may have to be terminated.”

No medications have yet been found that can prevent or reverse chemo-related nerve damage, Streckmann noted.

Despite this, U.S. doctors spend an estimated $17,000 per patient each year treating nerve damage associated with chemotherapy, she said.

By contrast, exercise is both effective and cheap, Streckmann said.

Researchers are working on guidelines for hospitals to integrate exercise into cancer treatment as supportive therapy, Streckmann said. There’s also an ongoing study in six children’s hospitals in Germany and Switzerland, to see if exercise can prevent nerve damage in kids receiving chemo.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on physical activity and patients with cancer.

SOURCE: University of Basel, news release, July 2, 2024

Source: HealthDay