Current CanRehab student Kathy McAllister shares her story, and encourages people to #ThinkBowelCancer sooner.

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide. Over the past 20 years, improvements in screening, diagnosis and treatment have resulted in significant improvements in survival rates of up to 30%. Currently the 5-year relative survival rate is 65%.  Most patients diagnosed with bowel cancer will receive surgery and at least one-third will receive chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.  

Unfortunately side effects associated with these cancer treatments include pain, weakness, fatigue, diarrhoea, cardiotoxicity, bowel dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, anxiety, depression, reduced physical fitness and function, and reduced quality of life (QoL). In addition, impairments in social functioning, particularly the ability to participate in community activities, social activities, and continue with employment have been reported by colorectal cancer survivors.  As the number of individuals living with and beyond colorectal cancer is expected to continue to increase, there is a need for effective strategies to address these common adverse treatment-related effects and improve the quality and duration of survivorship following colorectal cancer.

Emerging observational findings show that exercise is protective against cancer specific mortality and all-cause mortality(1) and a recent paper has reviewed the safety, feasibility and effectiveness of exercise programmes post bowel cancer diagnoses(2).  They found that exercise was safe (no major adverse events), feasible (adherence to the programme was acceptable) and effective.  There were significant positive effects of exercise on quality of life, fatigue, aerobic fitness, upper-body strength, depression, sleep and reduced body fat. When the exercise was supervised the participants experienced larger quality of life and fatigue benefits and in order to get the biggest improvements in QoL, aerobic fitness and reduced body fat the exercise programmes needed to be for ≥12- week and during treatment stage eg chemotherapy.

This is why it is important to provide as many people living with bowel cancer the opportunity to work with a CanRehab cancer exercise instructor to provide a programme that is safe, effective and individualised.


  1. Friedenreich CM, Stone CR, Cheung WY, Hayes SC. Physical Activity and Mortality in Cancer Survivors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. JNCI Cancer Spectr. 2020;4(1):pkz080.
  2. Singh B, Hayes SC, Spence RR, Steele ML, Millet GY, Gergele L. Exercise and colorectal cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis of exercise safety, feasibility and effectiveness. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2020;17(1):122.