Prehabilitation

What is it and why you need it.

You have just been diagnosed with breast cancer and have been told that you will be needing treatment. The last thing on your mind is whether your diet is supportive of your treatment, whether your gut health is functioning optimally or if your fitness levels are supportive of a better recovery. This is where prehabilitation becomes important.  It’s all about preparing you for your cancer treatment with the aim of maximising your resilience to treatment and improving long term health.

It’s about getting the support you need before you even start any treatments, and following that through to completion of treatment and beyond.  Prehabilitation is part of a continuum to rehabilitation. Most people are not adequately prepared for treatment, which is not a surprise – nobody expects a diagnosis of cancer.  Regardless of cancer type and stage of disease,  if you are as healthy as possible, physically and mentally, you are less vulnerable to the side effects of cancer treatment.

Preparation is important –  you want to be in the best possible physical and mental health. Does your diet support the additional protein requirements that you might need? Are you having regular bowel movements? Do you drink enough water?  Eat enough fibre and eat from a diverse range of foods?  Do you sleep well at night?  Is your oral health good? How do you manage your stress levels?  How are your energy levels? These are questions that don’t get asked often enough in the workup of a cancer diagnosis. 

The good news is it’s never too late to start making changes,  but there are advantages of starting out as soon as possible.  Research has shown that prehabiliation can help to reduce the length of stays in hospital, enhance recovery following treatment, reduce post treatment complications, improve nutritional status, enhance quality of life and improve cardiorespiratory fitness. It’s also a  good time to consider how to break away from habits such as smoking and alcohol. 

With around 80% of disease risk coming from diet, lifestyle, physical activity, stress management and environmental toxins (genetic risk makes up the other 20%),  there is so much that can be done to support you through your treatment. It’s all about focussing  on the care of the whole person and addressing  all of these risk factors. 

Prehabilitation empowers you and gives you a sense of purpose and control. It helps you to build psychological and physical resilience with the aim of improving quantity and quality of life. It should be part of routine cancer care, but unfortunately only very few people get offered any support before they begin their treatment,  even when benefits can often be seen within a couple of weeks.  Don’t wait to be offered support – actively seek the support you need to ensure your outcomes are as successful as possible.