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What is Prehabilitation?

Prehabilitation is about proactively getting your body and mind ready for treatment. This is done by improving your health during the time you have available before treatment.  

Prehabilitation typically addresses the following aspects of health: 

  • Exercise 
  • Nutrition 
  • Mental wellbeing 

Other wellbeing strategies can be part of prehabilitation as well, such as reducing alcohol, stopping smoking and learning more about treatment and recovery. 

How can prehabilitation help me?

Prehabilitation can help prepare you both physically and mentally for cancer treatment. Research shows that prehabilitation can support you to:

  • have fewer side effects of cancer treatment
  • better manage side effects of treatment
  • spend less time in hospital after your operation
  • improve your long-term health

In the image below, you can see how doing prehabilitation (green line) can build up your strength and fitness before surgery. After surgery, you return more quickly to your pre-surgery fitness level than if you did not do prehab (red line). 

Starting prehabilitation

Some hospitals, including St James’s Hospital, have prehabilitation programmes. The evidence for prehabilitation is growing rapidly and it is likely we will see more formal prehabilitation programmes in Ireland in the coming years. 

If you wish to do prehabilitation but don’t have access to a service, speak with your cancer care team. You can discuss any aspect of your health which you are concerned about or want to improve before treatment. You may be referred to a specialist healthcare professional to support you before and during treatment.  

Some people may feel confident to make healthy life choices themselves by using information from books or online resources, such as this website. 

Exercise prehabilitation

You can do exercise as part of your prehabilitation before any type of cancer treatment, such as surgery or chemotherapy. Many formal prehabilitation programmes are designed for people to do in the time period before their cancer surgery.  

By becoming more active and improving fitness before surgery, research shows you are less likely to suffer complications during and after surgery and will likely recover quicker. 

Cancer Research UK Prehabilitation Videos

Cancer Research UK have developed several helpful videos about preparing for cancer treatment. The advice and information in these videos is meant for anyone affected by cancer.

The videos were created with Zoe Merchant, who is the Programme Lead at Prehab4Cancer, a leading UK prehabilitation service, based in Greater Manchester. 

You can find more high-quality, reliable and detailed information about Prehabilitation on the Cancer Research UK website

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Louise Brennan
Author: Louise Brennan