There is an increase in specialists prescribing “prehabilitation” to cancer patients. Prehabilitation is when cancer start rehabilityion before beginning treatment, which may allow them to recover quicker from surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation
Unfortunately, insurance coverage for prehabilitation is iffy, especially if the aim is to prevent problems rather than treat existing issues.
Research to examine the impact of prehab is only in the beginning stages although it seems intuitive that a patient’s health during and after invasive surgery or a toxic course of chemo or radiation can be improved by being as physically and psychologically fit as possible going into it.
Currently, prehabilitation is commonly associated with orthopedic operations such as knee and hip replacements or cardiac procedures. However, there is growing interest to incorporate prehab in cancer care in order to prepare patients for treatment and minimize some of its potential long-term physical impairments, such as heart and balance problems.
A structured exercise program is a main component of cancer prehab. A structure exercise program improves the patient’s endurance, strength or cardiorespiratory health. The clinician establishes baseline measurements and may set a goal for improvement. The clinician also evaluates and addresses physical impairments which could be problematic for a breast cancer patient who will need to hold her shoulders in a particular position for radiation. Depending on the program, patients may also receive psychological and nutritional counseling as well as other services.
Early research suggests that prehab may improve people’s ability to tolerate cancer treatment and return to normal physical functioning faster.
One randomized controlled trial found that 77 people who were awaiting surgery for colorectal cancer participated in an exercise, relaxation and nutritional counseling program. Half of the participants underwent the program in the four weeks before surgery and the other half of the participants participated in the eight weeks after it. The study found that 84% of prehab patients had matched or exceeded their baseline performance on a six-minute walking test compared with 62% of rehab patients.
More research is necessary in order to determine whether prehab actually improves cancer patients’ outcomes. But experts are optimistic that prehab could be an extremely cheap way to get patients ready for cancer treatment and surgery.