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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

East Tennessee Studies Physical Activity in African-American Cancer Patients

Dr. Faustine Williams, assistant professor in the department of health services management and policy in the East Tennessee State University College of Public Health, is lead author on an article in Springer Nature. The article, Physician role in physical activity for African-American males undergoing radical prostatectomy for prostate cancer, explores African-American prostate cancer survivors’ experiences with physical activity prescription from their physicians.

The number of cancer survivors in the USA is increasing. As of 2014, there were over 14.5 million estimated individuals with a history of cancer, who were considered survivors.  Racial disparities are increasingly evident in prostate cancer survival, with African-American men exhibiting notable dis-advantages. African-American men are nearly 1.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than white men and almost 2.5 times more likely to die from the disease, exhibiting the highest rates of prostate cancer incidence and mortality in the United States.

Physical activity is recognized as a complementary therapy to improve physical and physiological functions among prostate cancer survivors. Little is known, however, about communication between health providers and African-American prostate cancer patients regarding the health benefits of regular physical activity on their prognosis and recovery.

In this study, three focus group interviews were conducted with 12 African-American prostate cancer survivors in May 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. Participants’ ages ranged from 49 to79 years, and all had had completed radical prostatectomy. Their time out of surgery varied from 7 to 31 months.  The study explored physician role on prescribing physical activity, patients’ perceived barriers to engaging in physical activity, perception of normalcy following surgery, and specific resources survivors’ sought during treatment.

Of the 12 men who participated, eight men (67 percent) reported that their physicians did not recommend physical activity for them. Although some participants reported they were aware of the importance of sustained physical activity on their prognosis and recovery, some expressed concerns that urinary dysfunction, incontinence, and family commitments prevented them from engaging in more active lifestyles.

Dr. Williams states, “Findings underscore the importance of health communication between healthcare providers and African-American prostate cancer patients regarding physical activity prescription and its impact on recovery and survival. It’s evident from our findings that transitioning from post-radical prostatectomy treatment to normal life was an important concern to these men.”

Given the established evidence that provider-patient communication enhances adherence to care plans, it should be recommended that physicians and other healthcare providers discuss and prescribe exercise/physical activity. Results may aid in the future design of larger-scale interventions to better facilitate physician-patient physical activity communication and thereby increase patients’ physical activity awareness, adherence, and overall quality of life.