Implementing supportive exercise interventions in the colorectal cancer care pathway: a process evaluation of the PREPARE-ABC randomised controlled trial

Jamie Murdoch, Anna Varley, Jane McCulloch, Megan Jones, Laura B. Thomas, Allan Clark, Susan Stirling, David Turner, Ann Marie Swart, Kerry Dresser, Gregory Howard, John Saxton, James Hernon

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Background: A colorectal resection is standard treatment for patients with colorectal cancer (CRC). However, the procedure results in significant post-operative mortality and reduced quality of life. Maximising pre-operative cardiopulmonary fitness could improve post-surgical outcomes. PREPARE-ABC is a multi-centre, three-armed, randomised controlled trial investigating the effects of exercise interventions, with motivational support on short and longer-term recovery outcomes in CRC patients undergoing major lower-gastrointestinal surgery. The trial included an internal pilot phase with parallel process evaluation. The aim of the process evaluation was to optimise intervention implementation for the main trial. Methods: Mixed methods process evaluation conducted in 14 UK hospitals between November 2016 and March 2018. Data included a site profile questionnaire and telephone scoping interview with hospital staff, 34 qualitative observations of standard care and 14 observations of intervention delivery, 13 semi-structured interviews with healthcare professionals (HCPs) and 28 semi-structured interviews with patients. Data analysis focused on describing intervention delivery within each arm, assessing fidelity, acceptability and how variation in delivery was linked to contextual characteristics. Results: Standard care exercise advice was typically limited to maintaining current activity levels, and with lead-in time to surgery affecting whether any exercise advice was provided. Variation in HCP capacity affected the ability of colorectal units to deploy staff to deliver the intervention. Patients’ exercise history and motivation prior to surgery influenced HCP perceptions and delivery of the motivational components. Observations indicated a high level of fidelity to delivery of the exercise interventions. All but one of the 28 interviewed patients reported increasing exercise levels as a result of receiving the intervention, with most finding them motivational and greatly valuing the enhanced level of social support (versus standard care) provided by staff. Conclusion: Hospital-supervised and home-based exercise interventions were highly acceptable for most patients undergoing surgery for CRC. Delivery of pre- and post-operative exercise within the CRC care pathway is feasible but systematic planning of capacity and resources is required to optimise implementation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1137
JournalBMC Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2021


  • Colorectal cancer
  • Exercise prehabilitation
  • Process evaluation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Surgery

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