Background: Fatigue and loss of physical performance are frequent problems of cancer patients. In a pilot study, the authors evaluated the feasibility and effects of aerobic training in the rehabilitation of cancer patients after completing high dose chemotherapy.
Methods: Sixteen patients participated in a specially designed rehabilitation program for 6 weeks. The patients entered the program, which consisted of walking on a treadmill, shortly after completing treatment. Sixteen patients who did not train served as controls. Physical performance (maximum speed on the treadmill test), cardiac function, and hemoglobin concentration were compared at the time of discharge from the hospital and 7 weeks later. At the second examination, fatigue and limitations in daily activities due to impaired endurance were assessed during personal interviews.
Results: At the time of discharge from the hospital, maximum physical performance (training group: 6.2 +/- 1.1 km/hour; controls: 6.2 +/- 1.3 km/hour) and hemoglobin concentration (training group: 10.1 +/- 1.4 g/dL; controls: 10.1 +/- 1.2 g/dL) were similar for both groups. After 7 weeks, improvement in maximum physical performance (training group: 8.3 +/- 1.6 km/hour; controls 7.5 +/- 1.3 km/hour) and hemoglobin concentration (training group: 13 +/- 1 g/dL controls: 12 +/- 1.4 g/dL) were significantly higher for the training group (P < 0.05). By the second examination, no patient in the training group but 4 controls (25%) reported fatigue and limitations in daily activities due to low physical performance.
Conclusions: Aerobic exercise improves the physical performance of cancer patients recovering from high dose chemotherapy. To reduce fatigue, this group of patients should be counseled to increase physical activity rather than rest after treatment.