Health Innovations

How Prehabilitation Benefits Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancer Patients

Jul. 22, 2021

Cancer patients preparing for complex GI operations can benefit from the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center’s prehabilitation program.

What is gastrointestinal cancer?

Gastrointestinal (GI) cancer includes cancers that affect the GI tract, the pathway from the mouth to the anus. Common types of GI cancers include:

  • Stomach cancer.
  • Pancreas cancer.
  • Liver cancer.
  • Large or small intestine cancer.
  • Spleen cancer.
  • Anus/rectum cancer.
  • Gallbladder cancer.
  • Peritoneal cavity cancer.

Many patients who are diagnosed with complex GI cancer are treated with surgery that removes, destroys or controls the cancer cells. Yet, preparing for surgery isn’t always an easy process, and this period typically can take anywhere between two to six months.

“We know that cancer patients who are undergoing or preparing for complex GI operations experience challenges, not only physically, but also psychosocially,” explained Sameer Patel, MD, surgical oncologist at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center and assistant professor in the Division of Surgical Oncology in the Department of Surgery at the UC College of Medicine.  

Knowing the impact the cancer journey can have on patients who are preparing for surgery, the UC Cancer Center developed the Five-Pillar GI Cancer Prehabilitation Program – a program designed to improve patients’ physical and mental well-being prior to surgery, increasing their chances for a better recovery and response to treatment.

The Five-Pillars Explained  

Components of the program include nutrition, physical activity, wellness, pulmonary and smoking:

The goal of the nutrition pillar is for patients to receive personalized nutritional guidance. Following a nutrition-focused physical exam, a UC Cancer Center dietician develops a goal-directed nutritional plan, including “food diary” education and recommendations for multivitamins and protein supplements.

Physical Activity
When participating in the physical activity area of the program, patients are evaluated by a UC Cancer Center physical therapist to determine the best goal-directed exercise program for them – once their plan is established, they receive “exercise diary” education and telehealth classes and assessments

The wellness pillar focuses on wellness and mindfulness. Options include psychoeducational and meditation group sessions or a psychiatry referral. UC Cancer Center social workers also evaluate patients to determine how their needs can be met.

For patients who experience pulmonary issues, they will receive an incentive spirometer along with education and assessments.

For patients who are active smokers, they will be referred to a smoking cessation program.

The Benefits of The Five-Pillar GI Cancer Prehabilitation Program

Dr. Patel notes that working with patients on precisely what they need before they undergo an operation is essential because the UC Cancer Center can help get patients in the best possible shape leading into a complex operation.

“By having patients in their best condition, they will have a shorter stay in the hospital, they’ll have less postoperative complications and they’ll be able to get back on their feet in a short amount of time,” said Dr. Patel. “Their overall mental and physical well-being will be in a much better position compared to if they had not participated in the program.”

The GI Cancer Center at the UC Cancer Center

Not only do patients receive care from 23 dedicated GI experts at the UC Cancer Center, but they also benefit from the center’s multidisciplinary approach to care. In order to deliver the ultimate personalized treatment, the UC Cancer Center has groups of highly specialized clinicians who work together to develop the best plan for each of their patients.

“We rely on the expertise of our survivorship program, supportive services group, integrative medicine team, and we also have a group of highly specialized oncology nurse navigators who work together to really help patients get through the entire process,” Dr. Patel explained.