When Christchurch man Clynton Inns was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in February 2016, simply getting through the treatment regime was his main priority.
Thirty-seven radiation treatments administered within a short two month period left him with a range of unpleasant side effects, including greatly reduced energy levels.
It was not until Clynton, 73, discovered a new group exercise class for prostate cancer patients at St George’s Cancer Care – The Glasson Centre that his quality of life began to return.
Clynton was one of the first patients to sign up to the weekly programme, the first of its kind for prostate cancer patients in New Zealand. St George’s also introduced a similar initiative for breast cancer patients in September 2016.
Eight men, aged between 60 and 80, currently attend the group classes which aim to manage side effects while improving health and wellbeing. All prostate cancer patients are eligible, regardless of where they are at in their treatment journey.
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers treated at St George’s, accounting for a third of all patients.
The new circuit-based class is delivered by qualified oncology exercise specialists and combines strength, aerobic and impact routines in both seated and standing positions.
Clynton, who was prompted to get his prostate checked after seeing a men’s health campaign on television, is a staunch advocate of the programme. He claims the main benefits are improved fitness and the opportunity to spend time with people in similar situations.
“There is more to it than just exercise – it’s the wellbeing aspect that goes with it,” he says.
“It’s great to mix with people who have finished, or are going through treatment, and understand the whole process, while chatting about life matters in general – normally fishing, cars or sport. The class is tailored to our individual needs and capabilities, and I look forward to it every week.”
Fellow class member Don McDonald, 69, agrees. He was diagnosed two years ago.
“I find the whole thing quite enjoyable,” he said.
“We are all in the same boat and we have a good old yarn about our prostates, which is not something that you can do in the pub. The main thing is that we are not struggling through it on our own. I have already noticed a difference in my physical strength and energy levels have increased.”
St George’s Cancer Care radiation therapist Adiella Stewart developed the programme in response to a growing body of research that highlights the importance of exercise for prostate cancer patients.
“Benefits include reduced fatigue, lowered risk of osteoporosis (where bones become weak and less dense), increased strength and aerobic fitness, and improved posture and metabolic function,” says Adiella.
“There is a real need for cancer patients to have access to specialised exercise programmes. On average, patients have at least 12 months of inactivity which can result in weight gain, loss of muscle and physical strength which can be a real knock to their confidence.
“Our ultimate goal is to make exercise programmes available to all cancer patients, and that exercise becomes standardly prescribed alongside radiation and chemotherapy.”
International research ties exercise with prostate cancer survival, with evidence suggesting that men who are physically active before and after diagnosis have better outcomes. A newly-launched Cancer Research UK study is going as far as determining whether regular exercise should be introduced as a new treatment for prostate cancer.
St George’s Cancer Care practice manager Viv Ali says the clinic’s long-term vision is to develop a wider programme for patients that incorporates exercise, yoga and mindfulness.
“It is so important to understand what matters to the patient, and ensure we embrace the evidence supporting these service improvements which are no longer considered to be on the fringe of patient care,” she says.
St George’s Cancer Institute has provided funding for the prostate cancer exercise classes, and FitBit New Zealand has donated personal health trackers to monitor heart rate and fitness improvements.
St George’s Cancer Care – The Glasson Centre also offers specialist lymphodema physiotherapy, dietitian consultations, speech and language therapy, and clinical psychologist consultations alongside chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The clinic utilises advanced technology and treatment protocols, with the ability to offer some chemotherapy drugs that may not be available in the public system.