Cancer prehabilitation

Steps you can take to prep for cancer treatment

cancer prehabilitationCancer prehabilitation, or prehab, is the process of improving a patient’s emotional and physical health in anticipation of upcoming treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. It occurs between the time of a cancer diagnosis and the beginning of treatment.

Although not a new concept to medicine, it’s becoming an emerging component in cancer care. Preparing for the physical and emotional aspects of cancer treatment can improve outcomes and minimize side effects associated with cancer treatment.

Sometimes the timeframe between the diagnosis and treatment initiation is short, but any opportunity to provide education and intervention can be beneficial. Cancer prehab can involve one or more areas to work on.

Assessing a patient’s baseline function to identify health problems is the first step. Factors such as smoking, lack of fitness and anxiety, are examples of issues that can be addressed prior to treatment.

Prehabilitation measures could include:

  • Smoking cessation program prior to surgery to improve lung function and minimize the risk of complications such as pneumonia.
  • Fitness and strength training prior to treatment can improve stamina and overall well-being.
  • Guided imagery and meditation can help lessen anxiety and stress in patients who have to undergo chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • Nutritional counseling – better nutrition enhances the immune system and lowers the risk of infection. Patients heal more quickly when they are nourished properly. You can read a recent blog post here that talks in detail about nutrition and cancer prehabilitation.
  • Skin protection – some treatments such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy can affect the skin.
  • Dental checkup – The mouth and teeth can be a source of infection during some types of chemotherapy treatment. For this reason, it is helpful to have a checkup before you begin treatment if you have not had one in the last six months.

Other interventions

These are tailored specifically to the type of cancer and treatment a patient will face:

  • Kegel (pelvic floor) exercises for prostate cancer surgery patients to decrease urinary incontinence.
  • Swallowing exercises for head and neck cancer patients undergoing surgery or radiation therapy
  • Range of motion and posture exercises for breast cancer patients.
  • Bone health: Certain cancers such a multiple myeloma and bone metastasis can weaken bones. In addition, some cancer treatments such as hormone therapy used in breast and prostate cancer can also lead to osteoporosis. Exercise, diet and supplementation with calcium and Vitamin D can improve bone strength.

Taking a proactive approach to upcoming treatment can not only make the patient feel better, but could lessen the length-of-stay in the hospital, decrease complications related to treatment, minimize delay of treatment and reduce overall healthcare costs.

Take the next step:

  • Learn about the many supportive services the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center offers patients at the time of diagnosis.
  • If you are a bladder cancer patient who will undergo cystectomy, consider the U-M study that is currently underway involving prehabilitation for this patient population.
  • Still have questions? Call the nurses at the University of Michigan Cancer AnswerLine™. They can help patients or their loved ones find a clinical trial or provide insights into the newest and latest cancer treatments. Feel free to call at 1-800-865-1125 or send an e-mail.

KimZThe Cancer AnswerLine™ nurses are experienced in oncology care, including helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer. These registered oncology nurses are available by calling 800-865-1125 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Your call is always free and confidential.



University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer CenterThe University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.