Anna Campbell MBE is cancer exercise expert based in Scotland who runs rehabilitation courses for survivors, as well as providing training and education for fitness and health professionals working with cancer survivors in the community. For over sixteen years, she has researched the physical and psychological benefits of staying active after a cancer diagnosis, publishing over 30 research papers and three book chapters in the field of exercise and cancer survivorship. Anna is also an associate professor at Edinburgh Napier University.
Anna is speaking at the Edinburgh Soapbox Science event, which takes place on Saturday 22nd July 2017 at 12 noon at The Galleries Precinct on The Mound. The title of her talk is: “Exercise and cancer survivorship – movement matters”
Becoming a “pracademic”
Once I had completed my Ph.D. in biochemistry, I worked in the biotechnology industry for about ten years, including a few years in Holland and a couple of years in Edinburgh working at the biotech company called PPL Therapeutics, which was linked with Roslin Institute and Dolly the Sheep – the first cloned animal.
In 1998, I decided to go back to university and study for an M.Sc. in Sport and Exercise because it was an area that fascinated me. I was never very fit while at school or university and only started exercising in my twenties. Consequently, I became very aware of the benefits physically and mentally and wanted to learn more.
In 2000, I was offered a research position to look at whether exercise was good for you when still on cancer treatment. On studying the literature, I soon realised that there was virtually no evidence on the effects of exercise and physical activity on cancer treatment.
Since then, it has been my passion to discover as much as possible on the physiological and psychological benefits of exercise post cancer diagnosis. But also, I am a “pracademic” and my aim was that any positive evidence should be put into practice. So, in addition to undertaking research, I helped to make to exercise DVDs for anyone living with cancer and to set up evidence based programmes in the community.
I also established a training company CanRehab, which trains all the fitness instructors to be able to provide safe and effective programmes for anyone living with or beyond a cancer diagnosis.
Collaborating with others around the world to truly make a difference to cancer survivor’s lives
Every day is different – sometimes I am teaching on the cancer exercise module in the M.Sc. in Clinical Exercise Science at Edinburgh Napier University. This is a very applied module, where the students work with cancer survivors and assess their fitness and treatments, as well as preparing an individual exercise programme for them. So, I link with local hospitals and leisure services.
Other days, I am writing grant applications or research papers – I am lucky that I am collaborating with other exercise oncologists around the world. I am also the Physical Activity Consultant for Macmillan Scotland and I work with the Macmillan UK wide MoveMore programme. Often, I am out and about giving talks to health care professionals about why they should refer their patients to these programmes.
The best bit is seeing the difference that staying active truly makes to a person’s life after a cancer diagnosis. I have worked with over 400 people with cancer and they all say that being active has given them control, confidence, friendships, as well as combatting or preventing cancer treatment related side effects such as de-conditions or fatigue.
In the future, I think with new discoveries in the field of oncology almost every day, cancer treatments will continue to improve the probability of cancer being cured or described a long-term condition. I think treatments will become more individualised in order to reduce unnecessary side effects
Limbering up for my Soapbox Science talk
In my talk hope to present an overview of where we are today in terms of research into the benefits of exercise at different stages of the cancer journey – i.e. from pre-surgery exercise programmes to palliative care programmes, the quality of the evidence on exercise’s role in reducing cancer treatment side effects, and indeed the chance of the exercise reducing the risk of cancer recurrence or cancer death.
I will then discuss where the research gaps are in this important area of research. Finally, I will provide information on what happens when you put research into practice by starting community based programmes and provide the latest guidelines on what you should do to stay active post diagnosis.
These events are so important because it provides an opportunity to explain in lay terms the importance of staying active after cancer diagnosis to an audience who may not be aware of this.
Amazing and versatile science careers
I think doing a science degree (my first degree was B.Sc. Immunology) provided me with an amazing and versatile career, allowing me to try many different avenues because I didn’t often know which route to take. I have been a lab bench scientist, a business development manager in the biotechnology industry, a director of a training company, a research fellow on a grant and now a reader in clinical exercise science.
I would never have thought I would end up working on exercise and cancer survivorship, but it combines my love of medicine, exercise, teaching and working with people!
Sun, sea, sand … and science
I am going to a sports resort in Lanzarote with 35 Danish cancer survivors to observe their programme and hope to take a similar number of cancer survivors out to the resort at the same time next year. Then I am off to Denver to the world’s largest sport and exercise medicine conference – the ACSM – (American College of Sports Medicine), where I will be chairing the cancer exercise component of the programme.