Prof’s Research Links Increased Exercise to Reduced Symptoms in Cancer Patients


Las Vegas, N.M. – Increased physical activity helps reduce cancer patient’s symptoms like pain and depression, according to a Highlands University professor’s study.

Exercise and sport sciences professor Jay Lee and the coauthors’ paper, “An Analysis of Symptoms and Functional Gains in a Cancer Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit,” was published in the International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation.

“I’m interested in improving cancer patients’ survivability and quality of life through physical activity,” Lee said. “With physical therapy, patients saw improvements in overall strength, balance, coordination and endurance. With occupational therapy, the patients saw improvements in what we call activities of daily living, like feeding themselves, cooking a meal, and getting dressed.”

The study is the first of its kind to measure how patients in an inpatient cancer rehabilitation program benefited from a regime of physical therapy and occupational therapy. It took place at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, known as one of the leading cancer treatment centers in the world.

Lee said the 71 people in the study had a wide variety of cancers, ranging from so-called liquid tumors like leukemia and lymphoma to solid tumors like breast cancer and prostrate cancer. The majority had completed their initial cancer treatments, while others were still undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.

Data was collected on a daily basis for the patients during their 10 – 14 day stay at the cancer rehabilitation center. One evaluative tool Lee employed was Edmonton Symptoms and Assessment System, or ESAS, a commonly used measurement of symptoms in cancer patients.

“The ESAS measures both physical and psychological symptoms. With increased exercise during inpatient rehabilitation, the patients saw improvement in some of the most distressing physical symptoms like fatigue, poor sleep quality, and pain. For the psychological symptoms, there was improvement in measures like anxiety and depression,” Lee said.

He said cancer patients return to primary acute care because of failure to thrive or when their cancer recurs.

“Increased physical activity and functional gains in daily living activities help reduce the risk of returning to primary acute care for some cancer patients,” Lee said.

He said it is satisfying to conduct research that improves outcomes for post-treatment cancer patients.

“Cancer reaches across all aspects of society, and knowing that this kind of research can have a positive impact on people’s lives is satisfying. It also is a good teaching opportunity to show how science can be used to improve people’s lives,” Lee said.

Lee joined the Highlands University faculty fall semester 2015. Previously he was a professor at the University of Houston and Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, among other universities.

This semester at Highlands Lee is teaching undergraduate exercise and sport sciences classes in kinesiology and measurement and evaluation. At the graduate level, he is teaching research methods.

Lee earned his Ph.D. in kinesiology from the University of Houston, with emphasis on motor behavior and measurement. Some of his other research interests include motor learning and development, sports psychology, and epidemiology.

Lee is widely published in scholarly journals such as the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, American Journal of Physical Rehabilitation and Health, and Journal of Contemporary Athletics.