Older woman exercising beside her doctor
Date: 
January 24, 2018

New Irish Cancer Society-funded research to study effects of exercise on lung cancer treatment and recovery

Patient-centred study will examine role of physical fitness in people with lung cancer before and after surgery

With Lung Cancer Awareness Month taking place throughout January, the Irish Cancer Society has today announced funding for innovative new research into the potential effects of exercise on lung cancer patients who undergo surgery.

Portrait of Irish Cancer Society lung cancer researcher Shauna MaloneResearcher Shauna Malone (pictured right) has been awarded a four-year grant to carry out her research which will directly involve lung cancer patients.

It is estimated that 2,500 people in Ireland are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. Treatment options for lung cancer patients range from chemo-, radio- and immuno-therapy to, in some cases, surgery. When surgery is a viable treatment option it can involve removal of part or all of the lung containing cancer.

Lung cancer surgery also comes with the risk of long recovery time, poor health, and sadly, sometimes even death. Shauna’s research will therefore uncover whether exercise can improve surgery outcomes and better a patient’s quality of life.

Carried out in the School of Health and Human Performance in Dublin City University and the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin, Shauna’s research will first measure the effect that surgery has on physical fitness and quality of life in patients with cancer. It will examine if low physical fitness is linked to poorer recovery from surgery. Participants will have their physical fitness and quality of life tracked over the course of their journey from diagnosis to after surgery.

Secondly, the research will examine if exercise can improve physical fitness, recovery from surgery and quality of life. Participants will be split into four groups. Group 1 will exercise both before and after surgery. Group 2 will exercise before surgery only. Group 3 will exercise after surgery only. Group 4 will not exercise. This will determine if exercise is most effective when done before or after surgery or both before and after. The results of this research may be used to better prepare patients for surgery and to improve patient’s recovery from surgery.

Shauna is also an instructor in DCU’s MedEx Wellness, a series of a novel community-based chronic illness rehabilitation programmes led by medical director Dr Noel McCaffrey. MedEx offers medically supervised exercise classes to patients with a range of chronic illnesses, including cancer. Lung cancer patients recruited to Shauna’s research project in Groups 1-3 will be assigned to exercise sessions in MedEx.

Describing the research, Shauna said: “In my work with MedEx I see the benefits exercise and physical fitness can have on the bodies and minds of people with chronic illness. My research now provides the opportunity to scientifically measure the advantages of exercise before and after lung cancer surgery. These results may have a real impact on the survival and quality of life of future lung cancer patients, and I’m excited to get started on my work.”

Picture of lung cancer survivor CarmelThrough MedEx, Carmel Drohan (50 - pictured right) from Artane, Dublin, has experienced the benefits of exercise in the cancer treatment process. She said:

“When I was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer in 2015, following surgeries and chemotherapy, I was referred to the MedEx Move On programme. This was the best thing ever. I had 12 weeks of group classes and the assessment results showed that I practically doubled my fitness levels. I strongly believed the programme helped my recovery hugely.

“Late last year my cancer returned – this time a small tumour was found in each of my lungs. While I underwent two surgeries to remove some of the tumours, recovery from my second surgery was so much better than my first because in the four-week gap between operations, and under my doctor’s supervision, I was able to exercise and get fitter.

“Having known Shauna as one of my MedEx instructors, I know she will carry out excellent research that will hopefully confirm my belief that exercise can have a hugely positive impact on a patient’s cancer journey, and pave the way forward for pre- and post-surgery advice and methods for lung cancer patients.”

Prof Karen Redmond, Consultant Thoracic and Lung Transplant Surgeon at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Dublin, and a supervisor to Shauna’s research, added:

“Sadly, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, driving efforts in the Irish healthcare system to increase surgical resection rates in specialist units. Pulmonary rehabilitation is thought to reduce operative risks and secure better outcomes. Participation may also support more patients with borderline lung reserve to go for curative surgery. Research in this area is therefore essential to create awareness and encourage input of much needed resources.”

Prof Niall Moyna, another supervisor to Shauna and Professor at the School of Health and Human Performance and a member of the Centre for Preventive Medicine, both at DCU added:

"Pre-operative exercise for individuals with lung cancer is a new and exciting research topic. It will give Shauna the opportunity to really impact patient care and become a national expert in this area. Shauna's passion and aptitude for research has driven her to pursue this project, and I look forward to assisting her."

Shauna was awarded her research grant from the Irish Cancer Society after a competitive and thorough application process, with proposals strenuously vetted and reviewed by an international, external panel of research professionals to ensure the very best research gets funded.

The Irish Cancer Society will continue to monitor Shauna’s progress throughout her four-year research project, ensuring her research is carried out to world-class standards.

Commenting on the scholarships announcement, Dr Robert O’Connor, Head of Research at the Irish Cancer Society, said:

“Fostering the development of strong Irish cancer research careers is key to ensuring that Ireland continues to play an ever more important part in efforts to overcome cancer. We want the donations we receive from the public to go towards world-class cancer research, and so have developed a stringent three-tier review process that research applicants must get through before receiving funding for their work. To apply you must be a cancer expert. To be awarded you must stand out in this very competitive field.

“I would like to congratulate Shauna for her outstanding research proposal, and wish her well in her work. With the public continuing to support us with their generous donations, I hope the Irish Cancer Society will be in a position to work with more talented researchers like Shauna in the future as we continue the race to stop cancer.”

Lung cancer is the fifth most common cancer in Ireland. While marginally more men are diagnosed with the disease, the last 20 years have seen incidences of lung cancer growing significantly in women, predominantly due to more women taking up smoking in recent years.

The signs and symptoms of lung cancer are:

  • A cough that doesn’t go away or a change in a long-term cough
  • Feeling short of breath or wheezing
  • Repeated chest infections that won’t go away even after antibiotics
  • Coughing up blood-stained phlegm
  • Pain in your chest, especially when you cough or breathe in
  • Feeling more tired than usual and/or unexplained weight loss
  • Hoarse voice, problems swallowing or swelling in the face or neck.

The Society encourages the public to access its simple online lung health checker. It allows them to answer questions about their lung health and bring a summary of their results to their doctor. This enables people to have a proper conversation about their lung health with their doctor. It’s a very simple but effective way of taking lung health seriously.

To speak to a cancer nurse on any aspect of lung cancer contact our Cancer Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700, email cancernurseline@irishcancer.ie or drop into one of our 13 Daffodil Centres in hospitals nationwide.