Improving cancer treatment, one step at a time

30 August 2021

We know exercise has all kinds of benefits – it gives us an energy boost, improves our mood and builds cardiovascular fitness – but did you know it might also make chemotherapy more effective?

That’s what Professor Sandi Hayes and her team are trying to find out in their clinical trial, ECHO. It’s the first ever exercise intervention clinical trial in Australia led by Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group (ANZGOG), and will determine whether adding exercise to chemotherapy treatment for ovarian cancer can improve survival, while also reducing treatment-related morbidity and enhancing quality of life.

“A diagnosis of ovarian cancer rocks lives,” says Professor Hayes. “It brings treatment that is associated with a range of adverse physical and psychosocial impacts, and threatens mortality.”

If the ECHO trial finds that exercise does help women live longer and better, it could influence clinical care not only for women with ovarian cancer but also for all women affected by gynaecological cancer.

“Integrating exercise as part of standard cancer care can reduce the frequency and severity of treatment-related side effects, assist people to adhere to their cancer treatment, improve function and the ability to participate in normal daily activities, improve quality of life and may even improve survival,” says Professor Hayes.

However, Professor Hayes acknowledges that there is still work to do before exercise can be integrated among standard cancer care equitably. That work includes more research – which, like so many other gynaecological cancer trials, needs more funding. “Without funding, this research would not be possible,” she says.

So far, ECHO’s funding has come from a combination of research grants and support from charitable organisations such as GC Red, Cherish and ANZGOG.

“These charities have a clear understanding of the unmet needs of women with gynaecological cancers and are driven to support work that can address these unmet needs,” says Professor Hayes.

It’s a philosophy that aligns with Professor Hayes’ own motivation for doing what she does.

“We can and should do better for the 130,000+ Australians diagnosed with cancer each year, including the 6600 women diagnosed with gynaecological cancer,” she says. “My hope for the future is improved survival and improved quality of survival for all people with cancer through exercise, but particularly for women with ovarian cancer.”

You can help make Professor Hayes’ hope for the future a reality by donating to Honour Her.