November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more people in the United States die from lung cancer than ANY OTHER type of cancer. This is true for both men and women.

There are many research articles that show us just how important exercise is during cancer treatment, including benefits such as increased strength, endurance, and ability to tolerate cancer treatments. These benefits apply to lung cancer patients as well.

This is especially important considering the high mortality rates associated with lung cancer. Research shows that traditional exercise in lung cancer patients, including aerobic and resistance training, improve strength and endurance, as well as decrease emotional side-effects of cancer. Physical activity may also help patients tolerate chemotherapy treatments and decrease fatigue levels.

Cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is one of the most common and debilitating problem for cancer patients.

Patients with lung cancer are no exception. As many as 78% of patients with lung cancer may experience CRF. CRF is characterized by persistent fatigue, weakness, and lack of energy that does not go away with rest. It can be a result of cancer itself or a result of cancer-related treatments. This level of fatigue can make it difficult for a person with cancer to return to daily activities, hobbies, and engage in everyday life.

There are many different types of interventions to counteract CRF and help you get back to living life. Exercise is one of the main combatants against CRF. This is where a cancer rehab specialist comes in. Physical and Occupational Therapists, as well as Cancer Exercise Specialists, can assist in providing exercise in a safe way that takes into account a patient’s specific medical history.

More recent research regarding non-traditional options looks promising for lung cancer patients.

In a 2016 article from Zhang, et al., Tai Chi was found to be an effective intervention for managing CRF, especially for decreasing general and physical fatigue and increasing vigor. Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that involves a series of movements in a slow, focused manner with attention to breathing and balance. As you can imagine, this focus on breathing assists patients with lung cancer to be more in tune with their bodies and can help increase aerobic capacity in order to help improve the ability to tolerate exercise.

In a recent pilot study, a couples-based Tibetan Yoga Program was developed as an intervention for lung cancer patients and their caregivers. The program used a component using Tsa Lung exercises. Quality of Life (QoL) measures were used to determine efficacy of this program. QoL measures are used in healthcare as a means to determine one’s perception of satisfaction in various domains of life. Preliminary evidence of improvement was found in the areas of spiritual well-being for patients, fatigue for caregivers, sleep disturbances and mental health for both members of the program.

Exercise Tip:

Diaphragmatic breathing has also been shown to help improve outcomes in patients with lung cancer.

DO NOT DO THESE EXERCISES WHEN YOU ARE SHORT OF BREATH. It is also important to note that we are physical and occupational therapists, but not your specific therapist. These exercises are meant for general health and wellness.

Breathing Exercise

Find a skilled practitioner to help during this long process of recovery.

There is a multitude of research-based exercise programs and how exercise can reduce CRF and improve quality of life. Physical and occupational therapists who specialize in cancer rehab are on the forefront in implementing this intervention. It is important to find the best type of prescription-based exercise for you. It’s not easy to start exercising when you are already fatigued. Starting slowly and with an activity that you enjoy is just one of the keys to getting back to being active.

If you have further questions and think you may benefit from physical and/or occupational therapy services, please feel free to email us at: bestrongtherapy@gmail.com


Dr. Amber Swords, PT, DPT is a licensed physical therapist specializing in pelvic health, balance therapy, and oncology rehab. She is a co-owner, personal trainer, and treating physical therapist at Be Strong Therapy Services. Amber is passionate about seeing patients take control of their health and accomplish their goals. You can contact her at BeStrongTherapy@gmail.com.