Fitness after cancer

Fitness after cancer

I am 72 and was a regular cyclist. Starting in January last year, I had chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy to combat prostate cancer. It seems to have worked: my PSA count was 70 and is now 0.01. Whilst on chemo, I decided to get back into cycling. I was very weak and only managed a couple of miles.

I could not even get out of the saddle to ‘honk’ up a small slope. I finished my treatment in January this year and am trying again. Any advice?

Ray Stroud

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancerous cells while radiotherapy uses high energy radiation beams to target the tumour. It is important to remember that cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, also affect some normal cells. Consequently they often have considerable systemic side-effects, including fatigue. Chemotherapy can also sometimes cause anaemia (it suppresses the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow) which in itself results in tiredness and weakness and would exacerbate the symptoms.

As well as the treatment you have had, the lack of exercise during your treatment period will have led to generalised loss of fitness and muscle strength. So it is not surprising that you are still feeling weak and tired a few months after finishing treatment. Everybody is different in their response to treatment and their recovery afterwards. It is likely that you will be able to improve your fitness levels further over the coming months, even up to a year or more after finishing treatment. Strength and stamina need to be built up gradually. Initially, this may best be done through a combination of walking (or other gentle exercise), alongside shorter, less strenuous cycle rides. Slowly increase the intensity of your activity. Don’t despair if it takes longer than you would like to regain fitness – it is important to allow your body time to recover.

It is encouraging that your PSA reading has fallen to 0.01 since a lower level is usually associated with a better prognosis.

Dr Matt Brooks

 

This was first published in the August / September 2014 edition of Cycle magazine.

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