Aim: Oncology rehabilitation improves outcomes for cancer survivors but little is known about program availability in Australia. The aims of this study were: to describe oncology rehabilitation programs in Australia, to determine whether the exercise component of these programs was consistent with guidelines, and to explore barriers and facilitators to program implementation.
Methods: A sequential, explanatory mixed-methods study was completed in two phases: (1) A survey of Australian oncology rehabilitation programs; and (2) purposively sampled follow-up semi-structured interviews with senior clinicians working in oncology rehabilitation.
Results: Hospitals and/or cancer centres from 42 public hospital health networks (representing 163 hospitals) and 39 private hospitals were contacted to identify 31 oncology rehabilitation programs. All 31 surveys were returned (100% response rate). Programs were typically multidisciplinary, ran twice weekly, provided education and exercise, and included self-management strategies. Exercise prescription and progression was patient centered and included a combination of resistance and aerobic training supplemented by balance, pelvic floor and core stability exercises. Challenges to implementation included a lack of awareness of programs in the community and organisational barriers such as funding. Strong links with oncologists facilitated program referrals.
Conclusion: Despite evidence to support oncology rehabilitation, there are few programs in Australia and there are challenges that limit it becoming part of standard practice. Programs that exist are multi-disciplinary and place a greater emphasis on patient factors rather than published exercise guidelines.