An innovative clinical trial out of the Baltimore VA Medical Center called Exercise Rehabilitation in Veteran Cancer Survivors is examining the role of exercise in managing neuropathic pain in lung cancer survivors. Neuropathic pain, which includes numbness, tingling, pins and needles sensations, sensitivity to touch, and/or muscle weakness is common after surgery and chemotherapy in lung cancer survivors.
“Lung cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in Veterans,” said Kathleen Griffith, Ph.D., MPH, FNP-BC, research health scientist at the Baltimore VA, and associate dean for Research and the Ph.D. program at the George Washington University School of Nursing. “Lung cancer is often diagnosed at an earlier stage for patients in VA compared to non-VA settings, which means some Veterans with lung cancer are living longer. However, that means they are also managing symptoms, such as pain, for longer as well.”
VA diagnoses and treats 8,000 Veterans with lung cancer annually. The trial findings will benefit the 900,000 Veterans who are at-risk of developing lung cancer due to older age, a history of smoking, and environmental exposures during or after military service.
A clinical trial to manage chronic pain
“The goal of the clinical trial is to use exercise as a non-medical related treatment to improve Veterans’ mobility and function while also managing chronic pain,” said Alice Ryan, Ph.D., senior research career scientist, VA Rehabilitation Research & Development, professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and principal investigator for the study.
Exercise may help reduce the perception of pain the same way some medications do. By examining if prescribed exercise can reduce chronic pain, study findings could have a large impact on the quality of life for all cancer survivors. There is currently no way to prevent the development of neuropathic pain in lung cancer survivors. The long-term effects of this pain include extended suffering, disability, and chronic use of opioid and other medications.
When participants join the study, they continue their normal activities for six weeks. After this control period, they begin a 6-week exercise regimen consisting of cardio, strength and balance training. Twice a week, participants exercise with a trainer while having their heart rate monitored. Participant perception of pain, fitness and physical function is measured at the beginning of the study, after the six weeks control period, and then six weeks after the exercise intervention.
If you are a lung cancer survivor and are interested in participating in this clinical trial, contact Dr. Alice Ryan at Alice.Ryan@va.gov or Danielle Etchberger at Danielle.Etchberger@va.gov to learn more.
Exercise: a prescription for all cancer survivors
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network Guidelines for Patients, Survivorship Care for Healthy Living, highlights physical activity as a safe technique to improve health for most survivors. Before starting any new exercise program, talk to your cancer or primary care provider.
“Even light exercise, such as short walks, can reduce a patient’s fatigue and other symptoms related to pain,” said Griffith.
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, benefits of exercise for cancer survivors include:
- Reduced risk of some cancers reoccurring
- Improved self-esteem
- Feeling happier
- Being less likely to have depression, anxiety and fatigue
- Having more strength and endurance
- Better bone health
- Maintaining a healthy weight
Ask your local VA Medical Center about peer-to-peer exercise programs or survivorship resources that can help you on your cancer survivorship journey.
Cancer care at VA
Veterans with lung cancer have access to best-in-class cancer treatment at VA through the National Oncology Program’s Lung Precision Oncology Program (LPOP). LPOP brings together cancer best practices, cutting edge treatments, and new technologies and resources. Through this program, Veterans receive testing that identifies actionable molecular biomarkers (e.g., DNA mutations) to guide metastatic lung cancer care treatment.
VA’s priorities to improve lung cancer care include:
- Prioritizing screening to identify early-stage lung cancer
- Improving access for Veterans with advanced lung cancer to precision oncology clinical trials
- Enabling rapid translation of discoveries into clinical care
To learn more about cancer care at VA, visit cancer.va.gov or firstname.lastname@example.org.