Getting a cancer diagnosis is a distressing and a busy time, but it is also a time to get prepared for treatment. Exercise, good nutrition and wellbeing are key.

People diagnosed with cancer in Greater Manchester are being helped to get better more quickly – through exercise, nutrition and wellbeing support.

The Prehab4cancer programme launched in April 2019 and will help 2,000 people who are newly diagnosed with cancer and awaiting the official start of their treatment. After surgery it will also help in the recovery period.

It has been running for six months and early evaluation shows participants are improving their fitness and maintaining weight.

Already 400 people are taking part – a 93% participation rate after their first appointment.

Patients with certain cancers are offered a tailored programme of exercise and nutrition at the point at which they receive their cancer diagnosis. While many patients report feeling a loss of control, or waiting ‘in limbo’ at this time, this programme allows patients to take control and do something positive, both mentally and physically, before they undergo surgery.

Evidence shows that the more physically fit a person is before surgery, the more chance they have of making a good recovery, including a reduced risk of complications. Toleration of chemotherapy and radiotherapy can also improve. Even as little as two hours of exercise ahead of the start of treatment can potentially improve the patient’s outcome.

Cancer “prehabilitation” – getting patients ready for surgery – is a concept that is growing in recognition both nationally and internationally, with various trials are taking place in England. Greater Manchester is delivering the largest system-wide programme in the country.

Zoe Merchant, programme lead for Prehab4cancer in Greater Manchester, says:

“When diagnosed with lung, upper gastrointestinal or colorectal cancer, clinical teams will determine if the patient would benefit from the programme.

Zoe Merchant, programme lead for Prehab4cancer in Greater Manchester

“They will receive a phone call inviting them to a local

leisure centre no more than five miles from where they live.

“A specialist instructor will look at their stamina, fitness levels, body mass index, nutrition and lifestyle to decide which type of support or activities the person is best suited to. This personalised approach ensures that each prehab plan suits the individual’s needs.

“When a person gets a cancer diagnosis, they can feel out of control due to the amount of hospital visits and appointments they have, or the nervous wait between diagnosis and treatment beginning.

“This programme is helping patients take control of their diagnosis, giving them the opportunity to improve their health and wellbeing before their official treatment has even started.”

The programme also supports patients through recovery. Many patients may not be able to work or return to other activities quickly after surgery, which can leave people experiencing low mood and feelings of anxiety.

Good habits set before treatment can give patients the skills they need to change their lifestyles for the better and potentially prevent cancer coming back in the future. Regular exercise classes can also help people to feel part of their community and enhance their mental wellbeing.

Prehab4Cancer is delivered by GM Active, which brings together the operators of local leisure centres and gyms across Greater Manchester. This means that patients across the city region have easy access to a well-equipped facility and instructors wherever they live. It is also this network that allows “prehabilitation” to be provided across Greater Manchester.

Zoe said: “It is shown through evidence that people exercise better in supervised group classes rather than being given information about exercise and having to go away and do it themselves.

“We’re lucky in Greater Manchester to have GM Active – a single organisation facilitating this across the region, making it easier to join up services and ensure patients can attend.”

After cancer surgery patients may not want to continue going to the gym or take part in group classes, but they could instead take part in a walking group or a park run. GM Active will also provide advice to help keep cancer patients independently active after recovery and ensure they have continued wellbeing support they need via Macmillan and other support services.

Zoe said: “It is a great opportunity to change patients’ lives for the better.”

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