Senator BILYK (Tasmania) (19:41): As many in this place know, I’m a passionate advocate for cancer patients and their families. We need to find better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancers of all kinds. I want to speak tonight just quickly about EX-MED Cancer, a best-practice exercise program for people with cancer.
As you can imagine, cancer has a serious impact on the health and wellbeing of cancer patients. The impacts include fatigue, cognitive impairment, accelerated bone loss, incontinence, dysfunction of other sorts and many others. For example, I personally have developed a bit of a hearing disability since my brain cancers. Years of scientific research has established that exercise is an invaluable medicine in the management of cancer, and evidence shows that exercise helps cancer patients counteract their cancer related fatigue and tolerate their treatments. Exercise minimises functional impairments, relieves stress and mental distress and is safe during and after treatment.
The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia, or COSA, is calling for exercise to be embedded as part of standard practice in cancer care. Currently approximately 60 to 90 per cent of patients do not meet the recommended exercise guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, and this is perfectly understandable. Cancer can be a tough, horrible disease. Exercise is not naturally something that people with cancer generally want to do, particularly if the disease is causing them pain, discomfort or fatigue.
Recently, as I said, I’ve met with Associate Professor Prue Cormie and Nicole Cooper from EX-MED Cancer. Associate Professor Cormie is an accredited exercise physiologist and researcher whose work focuses on the application of exercise as medicine for the management of cancer. EX-MED Cancer is a not-for-profit entity dedicated to ensuring cancer patients receive best-practice exercise medicine. It is a partnership between a number of organisations, including the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, the Australian Catholic University, the University of Melbourne, Ovarian Cancer Australia and others. EX-MED Cancer provides the following services: coordinating the referral pathway from medical professional to patient and on to qualified practitioner; managing the delivery of a structured personalised exercise program; collating data for ongoing research; engaging with the multidisciplinary medical teams involved in cancer care to improve engagement and the delivery of exercise prescriptions; and delivery of education to cancer care practitioners responsible for the delivery of exercise medicine. Their goal is the improved health and wellbeing of all Australians with cancer.
Currently, there are approximately 138,000 cancer diagnoses every year in Australia, and it’s expected to reach 150,000 by 2020. So far EX-MED has had around 500 patient inquiries across a broad spectrum of cancers and over 200 inquiries from members of the medical profession. People with cancer can enrol themselves through EX-MED Cancer, or they can be referred by any member of the healthcare team or by community based organisations like the Cancer Council. After enrolling, EX-MED will provide information about the service and an information pack. Patients will be registered for the next EX-MED Cancer term at a site closest to their home. Patients can access information through the EX-MED Cancer Hub, a central point of contact and information, which patients and health professionals can access at any point throughout the program.
After a GP has assessed that the patient is well enough to exercise, the exercise physiologist will do some simple physical assessments in order to tailor the exercise prescription. After an instructional exercise session, in which the exercise physiologist will teach them the exercises involved, the patient will then attend three one-hour exercise sessions for three months in a group of 10 people with cancer. The exercise sessions will be supervised by their EX-MED Cancer exercise physiologist, who will instruct them to complete their personalised exercise prescription. Finally, the exercise physiologist will reassess the patient’s health status and provide feedback on their progress following the completion of the EX-MED Cancer program. The exercise physiologist will re-evaluate their personalised exercise prescription in light of their progress and develop a plan for them to continue exercising.
Patients are responding positively to this program. While EX-MED is currently based in Melbourne, it aims to expand internationally in the future. I would like to finish my contribution tonight with one final thought from EX-MED. They said to me when they came to see me:
If the effects of exercise could be encapsulated in a pill it would be prescribed to every person with cancer.
Even if this pill had just a fraction of the positive health benefits exercise provides it would be viewed as a miracle drug in the fight against cancer.