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Arnold School of Public Health

Faculty launch free exercise program to learn how physical activity benefits cancer survivors

November 5, 2021 | Erin Bluvas,

With funding from the UofSC School of Medicine Research Center for Transforming Health, exercise science faculty Shana Harrington and Ciaran Fairman are conducting a pilot study to investigate the implementation of an exercise program for individuals with cancer as a part of their routine care. The study takes the form of an eight-week Cancer Wellness Program offered to people who have completed their primary cancer treatment.

This free program offers assessments of physical function, strength and quality of life along with an exercise program tailored to each participant’s needs/abilities. It also provides supervised guidance for safe exercise practices and management of symptoms that arise from cancer treatment.

Previous research has already demonstrated the benefit of exercise on health-related outcomes for individuals with cancer. Recognizing that exercise improves fatigue, quality of life, physical function, recurrence/mortality rates and other areas, governing bodies around the world have issued evidence-based exercise guidelines for cancer survivors and calls for these programs to be integrated into standard care. 

“Despite this research and its acknowledgement by healthcare leaders, government agencies and professional organizations, very few evidence-based exercise programs for cancer survivors have been effectively implemented and even fewer have been studied,” says Harrington, whose research focuses on physical therapy and cancer survivorship, particularly upper arm impairments among women diagnosed with breast cancer and overhead athletes. “We need a better understanding of the barriers and facilitators of implementing these programs in real-world settings before they can be effectively rolled out on a large scale and impact the health of numerous patients with cancer.”   

Partnering with Prisma Health Midlands and South Carolina Oncology Associates, the research team will leverage an existing, but underutilized, program that has been offered at Prisma for the past three years. Initial investigation into this underutilization points to inadequate implementation planning, including lack of awareness by healthcare providers, an absence of a clear referral pathway and limited infrastructure/resources.

“There is a clear gap in the understanding of cultural, logistical and organizational barriers and facilitators that influence the implementation of exercise services for individuals with cancer," says Fairman, director of the Exercise Oncology Lab where his team researches the impact of exercise, nutrition and supplementation interventions during and after cancer treatment. “Our study will provide cutting-edge insight into how to embed exercise in cancer care – resulting in knowledge that can be applied not only in the Midlands but at cancer care facilities that vary in size, scope and location.”

To learn more about the study and determine if you are eligible to participate in the free eight-week exercise program, please view the program flyer or contact the Exercise Oncology Research Team by emailing or calling 803-576-8397 or 803-576-8404.

This work is supported by a Transformative Seed Grant from the UofSC School of Medicine Research Center for Transforming Health.


Ciaran Fairman brings exercise oncology expertise to Department of Exercise Science as assistant professor

Doctor of Physical Therapy program welcomes Shana Harrington, who specializes in upper extremity impairments in cancer survivors

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