Exercise and Diet Intervention Helps Overcome Cancer Therapy Related Fatigue

Ron Scharer

Ron Scharer has a family history of prostate cancer; his father and brother were both treated successfully for the disease at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). Throughout adulthood, he has paid careful attention to his prostate specific antigen (PSA) test results.

When his screening exam revealed a rising PSA and he, too, was diagnosed with the disease, Scharer underwent prostate cancer surgery followed by radiation treatment and androgen-deprivation therapy. During that time, he was asked to participate in a research study called IDEA-P that focused on diet and exercise interventions for men undergoing androgen-deprivation therapy.

Led by Brian Focht, PhD, a researcher with the OSUCCC – James Cancer Control Research Program and a professor of kinesiology in the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State, the study looks at the impact of intentional healthful diet and exercise intervention on treatment outcomes of patients undergoing androgen deprivation therapy.

“This is effective treatment to suppress male hormones that fuel cancer growth. Unfortunately, androgen deprivation therapy can also cause patients to lose muscle mass and gain fat, which puts them at risk for other health problems like heart disease and diabetes,” says Focht. “Our goal is to help men stay active and eat healthier during treatment, and to teach behavioral strategies to help them maintain these healthful habits independently.”

Scharer describes participating in IDEA-P as life-changing, noting the program provided him with the tools and motivation to significantly improve his diet, exercise and mental attitude while going through androgen-deprivation therapy.

“During treatment, I was more tired than normal. I didn’t feel like I had the energy to exercise. What I often felt like doing was eating and watching TV. The program addressed this feeling and helped me with strategies to overcome this tendency. Being in a group of guys experiencing the same challenges was very valuable because I realized I was not alone in this feeling,” recalls Scharer. “Cancer gave me an excuse to slack off on what was otherwise a healthy lifestyle. The IDEA-P program helped me get back on track during those challenging times, and stick to them afterward.”

Scharer can be found regularly riding his bicycle, gardening or walking in the woods. He’s also taken up yoga, something he never envisioned himself doing but that he says has improved his health in numerous ways. He and his wife also enjoy traveling when they can, and they exercise regularly at their local YMCA.

Focht and his colleagues recently published their initial findings from the IDEA-P study in the journal Annals of Behavior Medicine. The study was supported by funding from the National Cancer Institute and by funds from a student fellowship awarded by Pelotonia, an annual cycling event that raises money for cancer research at Ohio State.

“We found that a comprehensive exercise and diet program in a group setting can make a difference for prostate cancer patients, and the difference was greater than expected in a short period of time,” says Focht.“We think the group approach is important because it creates social support for men who have experienced shared challenges, and that can increase the chances of long-term behavior change.”

To learn more about prostate cancer care and research at the OSUCCC – James, visit cancer.osu.edu/prostatecancer or call 1-800-293-8066.