New research into effects of exercise for cancer recovery

The Irish Cancer Society has partnered with the Health Research Board (HRB) to provide funding into the potential benefits of exercise for lung and oesophageal cancer patients.

New research by Professor Juliette Hussey (pictured), Professor in Physiotherapy, Trinity College Dublin, will examine the role of exercise before surgery in aiding patient recovery. The study is among 14 projects to receive a total of €3.2 million in funding through from the Medical Research Charities Group (MRCG) / HRB Joint Funding Scheme.



Treatment for people with cancer of the lung or the oesophagus (food-pipe) often involves surgery. This surgery is complex and there is a high risk that patients will develop severe complications afterwards, mainly lung or heart problems, leading to a longer hospital stay and higher hospital costs, and impacting greatly on recovery and quality of life.

Prof Hussey’s research comes from the theory that, if patients’ lungs and heart can be optimised before surgery, then recovery will be improved.  While fitness can be improved by exercise, the lead-in time to surgery following a cancer diagnosis is often very short, and research is needed to examine what types of exercise might be most effective at increasing fitness over a short period.

This project will investigate if a special type of exercise training called high intensity interval training (HIIT) can increase fitness levels in people scheduled for surgery for cancer of the oesophagus or the lungs. HIIT alternates between periods of high intensity or ‘all-out’ exercise, normally cycling on a stationary bike, followed by a period of more relaxed exercise. This approach is known to improve fitness but has not previously been investigated in patients awaiting major surgery. 

Participants will be entered onto this project when they are referred for surgery at St James’s Hospital. Half of the group will complete HIIT for at least two weeks before surgery at the Clinical Research Facility at St James’s Hospital. The other half will prepare for surgery as normal.

Groups will be compared for changes in pre-surgery fitness levels, any complications they may experience after surgery, general physical recovery after surgery and the cost of care after surgery. Prof Hussey anticipates that patients who undergo HIIT before surgery will have less complications and better recovery after surgery, a significantly improved quality of life, and lower costs of care.

The Medical Research Charities Group (MRCG) comprises over 30 charities. Some of these, including the Irish Cancer Society, are part of the MRCG/HRB Joint Funding Scheme. The scheme funds internationally competitive and innovative research in areas of strategic relevance to particular MRCG-registered research charities. 

Click here for a full list of 2018 funded projects.