Physical activity and nutrition for better management and prevention of cancer

Cancer is one of the world’s most common chronic diseases, and research into its prevention and management is an important research priority for IPAN.
On World Cancer Day this 4 February, we’re highlighting some of the different approaches IPAN researchers are investigating, using physical activity and nutrition for the prevention and management of cancer.

IPAN’s Exercise and Nutrition for Cancer Research Group focuses on exercise and nutrition interventions to optimise musculoskeletal, nutritional, functional and quality of life outcomes for people with cancer. Members of this group include Associate Professor Nicole Kiss, Clinical Research Fellow, Victorian Cancer Agency Nursing and Allied Health; Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology, Steve Fraser; and Dr Brenton Baguley, Lecturer, Nutrition and Dietetics. Some of their projects are outlined here:


Taste function in adults undergoing cancer radiotherapy or chemotherapy

People with cancer frequently report that their taste is affected, particularly if they are undergoing treatment such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy. It’s also common for their dietary intake to decline, which again is more likely if they are undergoing cancer treatment.

If uncorrected, poor diet can lead to malnutrition and poor health outcomes.

In a new review published in the February 2021 Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Associate Professor Kiss and IPAN colleague, Senior Lecturer Nutrition Science Dr Sze-Yen Tan, explored whether different types of cancer and cancer treatment affect the taste function of adults (an important determinant of food intake), and how these considerations inform nutrition and dietetic practice.

The review examined findings from 25 studies and revealed that:

  • Cancer type alone did not appear to affect taste function;
  • Taste impairment was more consistently found in individuals who underwent radiotherapy to the head and neck area (compared to chemotherapy); and
  • Taste impairment can occur very rapidly, and can last up to two years after treatment.

Associate Professor Kiss said taste must be an important consideration for the treatment of cancer.

“A poor sense of taste can result in reduced food enjoyment and poor dietary intake. This review highlights the importance of assessing taste alteration in practice,” she said.

“Next research steps would be to identify factors contributing to taste alteration and to develop evidence-based interventions.”


Exercise physiology to improve health outcomes for people with cancer

Integrating exercise into usual care for people with cancer is the core of Associate Professor Steve Fraser’s research.

An Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) and exercise oncology researcher, he has conducted a number of randomised controlled trials investigating exercise and nutrition as countermeasures for the adverse effects of treatment in prostate, breast and haematological cancers.

He integrates Accredited Exercise Physiologists (AEPs) in clinical settings to improve health outcomes via exercise in people with chronic diseases, such as cancer.

Some of his exercise oncology projects include:

  • Evaluating the use of exercise as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool for cardiotoxicity during breast cancer chemotherapy;
  • Improving fitness and reducing sedentary time in haematological cancer patients undergoing stem cell transplant;
  • Improving musculoskeletal health and cognitive function using exercise and nutrition for men with prostate cancer undergoing androgen deprivation therapy; and
  • Evaluating the impact of treatment on adolescent and young adult cancer survivors’ health and well-being over time.


Nutrition and exercise support for men with prostate cancer

Dr Brenton Baguley specialises in nutrition and exercise support for men diagnosed with prostate cancer, with a special interest in counteracting the side effects from androgen deprivation therapy (ADT; testosterone suppressor).

He has a strong association with The Movember Foundation, and was an investigator in TrueNTH Australia: An integrated multicomponent care model for men affected by prostate cancer.

One of Dr Baguley’s recent projects was a pilot study, which showed a Mediterranean diet can mitigate some adverse effects of ADT.

He is currently working on a project exploring the perception of and access to nutrition services for men with prostate cancer treated with ADT, which he hopes will help inform the design of future nutrition and exercise models of care in this group.