Background and aims: Physical activity improves physical and psychological well-being of cancer survivors. Exercise physiologists and physiotherapists are qualified to provide exercise interventions for cancer survivors, however survivors do not routinely access and engage this support. This study aimed to understand referral habits to exercise professionals and attitudes towards physical activity of oncology health professionals (OHP), assess their fitness and determine the relationship between fitness and exercise referral habits.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey of the 2019 COSA conference delegates investigated referral habits of OHP to exercise professionals, attitudes towards physical activity for cancer survivors, self-reported physical activity and understanding of the role of exercise professionals in an oncology-care setting. A sub-group completed a fitness assessment measuring aerobic fitness, muscle strength and body composition.
Results: 67 delegates completed the survey and 49 completed fitness assessments. 60% of OHP met physical activity guidelines and 92% agreed that physical activity is important among cancer survivors to attenuate treatment-associated symptoms. Most understand the role of exercise physiologists (67%) and physiotherapists (70%) in cancer care. OHP believe exercise physiologists (54%) and physiotherapists (22%) are best placed to increase survivors’ physical activity levels. Two-thirds of OHP were aware of the COSA Exercise and Cancer position statement, with 54% referring patients to exercise professionals. 75% of OHP had above-average aerobic fitness levels, although fitness was not associated with referrals to exercise professionals. OHP with higher self-perceived fitness were more likely to provide their own physical activity recommendations (r=0.29, p=0.02).
Conclusion: There is good awareness of the benefits of physical activity in cancer care among OHP. However, referral rates to exercise professionals remain low, despite good awareness of the COSA Exercise and Cancer position statement. Efforts should be focused on implementing referral pathways from oncology centres to increase the number of active survivors.