Oncology teams may be instrumental in supporting physical activity in children undergoing acute cancer treatment, according to a study published in Pediatric Blood & Cancer.

Though physical activity tends to diminish in children undergoing acute cancer treatment, recent evidence suggests that physical activity interventions are feasible and effective for this population.

A team of international researchers conducted a qualitative study to determine the parental perceptions of physical activity in their children undergoing cancer treatment.

Parents of 30 children with cancer, who were being treated at a tertiary pediatric hospital in Melbourne, Australia, were approached to participate in semistructured interviews between 1 and 9 months following a child’s cancer diagnosis.

A total of 20 parents participated in interviews that had a median length of 37 minutes (range, 16-52 minutes). The mean age of children was 10.1 years (55% boys). Leukemia (55%), lymphoma (25%), osteosarcoma (15%), and myelodysplastic syndrome (5%) were the most common diagnoses among the patients.

Overall, parents described a pattern of physical inactivity in their children that was precipitated by the cancer diagnosis and treatment. Movement restrictions upon beginning cancer treatment and being in the hospital setting reportedly led to feelings of lost independence, reduced motivation, and isolation, which were further associated with an unwillingness and inability to be physically active. These issues were exacerbated in children who developed acute medical complications or who experienced long hospital stays.

Many parents felt responsible for encouraging their children to participate in physical activity but felt unsuccessful in their efforts, partly owing to uncertainty about how to do so safely. Parents expressed feeling a lack of control over the limitations to their children’s physical activity, in addition to a desire for education regarding how to encourage physical activity in their children.

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Regarding the treatment setting, parents suggested enhancing physical activity through addressing issues of independence, motivation, and isolation. They also suggested improving therapy services and symptom management, while enabling more opportunities for play, social interaction, and going outside.

“Inactivity cannot be addressed by children and parents alone but requires a coordinated and multifaceted approach,” wrote the researchers in their report.

Reference

Grimshaw SL, Taylor NF, Mechinaud F, Conyers R, Shields N. Physical activity for children undergoing acute cancer treatment: a qualitative study of parental perspectives [published online April 11, 2020]. Pediatr Blood Cancer. doi: 10.1002/pbc.28264