UIC to determine whether exercise can shorten recovery time for stem cell transplant patients

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing have received a four-year grant to determine whether exercise can shorten recovery time for patients who undergo high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation.

High-dose chemotherapy followed by marrow or stem cell transplantation can cure blood-borne cancers like lymphoma and leukemia but poses a high risk of severe complications or even death during the first 100 days post-treatment, says Eileen Danaher Hacker, UIC associate professor of biobehavioral health science and lead researcher of the study.

Severe fatigue often accompanies chemotherapy, which can lead patients to decrease their physical activity, Hacker said. She developed an exercise program called Strength Training to Enhance Early Recovery, or STEER, that uses elastic resistance bands to increase muscle mass and functional ability and improve patients' quality of life.

She will recruit about 75 patients being treated by stem cell or marrow transplantation at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System for the new study. They will either use the STEER program or participate in a health education program while continuing with their usual rest, activity and exercise.

Patients will exercise three times a week -- once supervised by health care professionals in a clinical setting, and twice at home, Hacker said. They will be assessed three times during the study for amount of physical activity, fatigue, muscle strength, functional ability, quality of life, and frailty.

Strength training, in comparison to other exercises, is most effective at building muscle mass, Hacker said, but few studies have focused on patients undergoing high-dose chemotherapy.

"Muscle strength is needed for physical activity and for a body to function properly," she said. "Without it, frailty and long-term disability may occur, even though the transplant survivors are cancer-free.

"Strength training is possible during the early recovery period if it is tailored to the individual's capabilities."

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