Patients undergoing surgery for lung cancer may benefit from a program of preoperative exercise, with a systematic review suggesting it reduces postoperative complications and duration of hospital stay.

The review and meta-analysis, published in the February British Journal of Sports Medicine , looked at the impact of preoperative exercise in patients undergoing surgery for a range of cancers.

Their review of 13 interventional trials, involving 806 patients and six tumor types, found the postoperative benefits of exercise were evident only in patients undergoing lung resection.

Data from five randomized controlled trials and one quasirandomized trial in lung cancer patients showed a significant 48% reduction in postoperative complications, and a significant mean reduction of 2.86 days in hospital stay among patients undergoing lung resection, compared with controls.

“Postoperative complication is a major concern for patients undergoing oncological surgery,” wrote Dr. Daniel Steffens, from the Surgical Outcomes Research Centre at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, and his coauthors. They suggested the benefits for patients undergoing lung resection were significant enough that exercise before surgery should be considered as standard preoperative care.

“Such findings may also [have impacts] on health care costs and on patients’ quality of life, and consequently, have important implications for patients, health care professionals and policy makers.”

The exercise regimens in the lung cancer studies mostly involved aerobic exercise, such as walking, and breathing exercises to train respiratory muscles, as well as use of an exercise bicycle. The exercises were undertaken in the 1-2 weeks before surgery, with a frequency ranging from three times a week to three times a day.

The authors noted that trials involving a higher frequency of exercise showed a larger effect size, which suggested there was a dose-response relationship.

There was little evidence of benefit in other tumor types. Two studies examined the benefits of preoperative pelvic floor muscle exercises in men undergoing radical prostatectomy and found significant benefits in quality of life, assessed using the International Continence Society Male Short form. However, the authors pointed out that the quality of evidence was very low.

One study investigated the effects of preoperative mouth-opening exercise training in patients undergoing surgery for oral cancer and found enhanced postoperative quality of life in these patients, but the researchers did not report estimates.

For patients undergoing surgery for colon cancer, colorectal liver metastases, and esophageal cancer, there was no benefit of exercise either in postoperative complications or duration of hospital stay. In all these studies, the authors rated the quality of evidence as “very low.”

“Despite the evidence suggesting that exercise improves physical and mental health in patients with cancer, there are only a limited number of trials investigating the effect of preoperative exercise on patients’ quality of life,” the authors wrote. “Therefore, the effect of preoperative exercise on quality of life at short-term and long-term postoperation should be explored in future trials.”

No conflicts of interest were declared.

SOURCE: Steffens D et al. Br J Sports Med. 2018 Feb 1. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-098032