More and more research is showing that physical activity can reduce the risk for many common cancers like colon, breast and cervical. But what about when cancer has already made it’s inroads into the body? The Exercise Medicine Research Institute in Perth, Western Australia has been been looking into this. They began prescribing exercise to cancer patients to start the same day as they start their chemotherapy or radiation treatments. By tailoring the exercise programs to each patient’s specific cancer, they have seen positive results. One of the benefits has been a maintenance in energy levels, which typically drop when on chemotherapy treatments. Additionally, muscle mass typically declines by 10% – 15% by patients undergoing cancer treatment. However, in their program patients have maintained and even gained muscle mass. All this is important especially when research is showing that if cancer patients are able to participate in moderate physical activity, they will more than double their chance of survival.
So what is the mechanism behind exercise and cancer? This is a broad field with a lot of unknown factors. However, one likely answer is the increase in blood flow that exercise gives. This would help the chemotherapy agent get into the tumors, which can be difficult as tumors often have a poor blood supply. Additionally, research is also showing how exercise influences the immune system.
A recent study was done at the University of Copenhagen. Researchers looked at five different types of cancer in mice. They divided the mice into two groups giving one free access to a running wheel, while the other group didn’t have this. At the end of the experiment the tumors in the exercising mice had reduced by 60 – 70% in all five types of cancer. This is powerful! Though not done on humans, it gives us an idea of what we might see in humans.
An earlier, small study done at Karolinska Institut took 10 normal, healthy young men and had them exercise for an hour. They took blood samples from before they exercised and afterward. Taking this blood, they extracted the serum and poured it over prostate cancer cells. What they found is that the serum taken after exercise suppressed cancer cell growth by 30%. Impressive. However, this research is still new and science is continuing to study what exactly is happening in the body with exercise. There is a lot more to learn.
So though we don’t understand all the mechanisms behind exercise, cancer and our bodies, we can still gain benefits by doing it! Let’s get out and get active!
Newby, J. (2016) Exercise and Cancer. ABC Catalyst. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4459555.htm
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