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Support from oncology clinicians can encourage people with cancer to adopt an exercise regimen that can help relieve their symptoms and improve their function. 

In interviews with 20 men and women with stage IIIB or IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), participants overwhelmingly cited usual daily activities as their source of exercise, despite the fact that such behaviors tend to require minimal effort. 

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Although exercise has been shown to reduce cancer-related disability and adverse symptoms, few of the persons interviewed recognized such activity as a means of mitigating symptoms. In fact, symptoms, particularly those related to treatment, discouraged patients from engaging in exercise. 

“Generally, patients are not being given concrete advice about exercise to help them maintain functionality and to improve their outcomes,” commented Andrea L. Cheville, MD, of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, in a statement issued by the facility. 

Cheville led the interview study in order to characterize the beliefs of patients with late-stage cancer regarding exercise, its relationship to their symptoms, and their clinicians’ roles in providing related counseling. Her group’s findings, which appeared in Journal of Pain and Symptom Management (2012;44[1]:84-94), indicated that respondents preferred to receive guidance from their oncologist (and were less receptive to guidance from ancillary health professionals). However, none of the subjects reported receiving more than general encouragement to stay active. Patients typically interpreted a lack of direction regarding exercise as a sanction of their current activity levels. 

Cheville and colleagues concluded that patient education regarding exercise and positive support from the oncologist are among the factors required to make persons with late-stage cancer more physically active. ONA