June is Cancer Research Month. Although cancer survival rates have remarkably improved over the last decade, continued research is required to find more effective treatments and prevention strategies. Current research coming out about cancer explores various treatments including vaccines and immunotherapies as well nutritional therapy to best support the internal environment, and of course, exercise. More research is needed to find the optimal prescription of exercise and its potential mechanisms.
You can get buried in the research and media for days. And I was tempted to. But Specialised Health is an Exercise Physiology company so for today’s article we’ll stick with the research related to our expertise: exercise.
The History of Exercise and Cancer
The role of exercise for cancer treatment is becoming more and more recognised recently, with the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia publishing a Position Statement[i]
last year specifically covering exercise for cancer care and Exercise and Sports Science Australia’s Position Statement[ii]
being renewed this year.
The role of exercise in both prevention (decreasing the risk of cancer) and in rehabilitation following cancer treatment has been well-established. Cancer and cancer treatment often cause further suffering for the patient, and exercise has been shown to assist in alleviating symptoms, thereby improving patient outcomes and wellbeing. Benefits include in improved body composition, cancer-related fatigue, sleep quality, pain management, depression, anxiety, physical fitness as well as decreasing the risk of the cancer reoccurring.
Despite the overwhelming level of evidence over the last 20+ years, medical referrals to exercise and the appropriate exercise professionals (Accredited Exercise Physiologists), is only just on the rise.
The Effects of Exercise on Cancer
After 10 years of increasing research in the field, exercise is now becoming recognised as a potent factor during treatment
The media has been powerful in spreading the word! ABC’s Catalyst covered a research trial a few years ago that was being conducted at ECU in Perth, lead by Professor Robert Newton
. The trial provided individualised exercise programs to participants to complete on the same day as their chemotherapy (immediately prior or immediately after)[i]
. Their video is a must watch! – it gave me goosebumps!
The video is consistent with the research I’d found for this article (I wish I’d remembered the video before I spent hours rifling through research articles!).
ABC’s Catalyst (2016) highlighted 3 main studies which showed, for lack of a better word, AWESOME results!
- All participants who were provided exercise as an adjunct treatment, at ECU, were reporting significantly less than expected side-effects from the chemotherapy. The findings weren’t just anecdotal, objective findings were also positive:
- Less fatigue
- Less nausea
- They also measured a higher blood count
- Maintained or even increased muscle mass (usually chemotherapy results in a loss of muscle mass of 10-15%)
- Increased or maintained bone strength in patients with on Androgen Deprivation Therapy (usually ADT leads to a 3% decrease in bone density)
- Improved ability to complete the whole course of chemotherapy
- A Swedish and a Danish study both found improved immune defences following a bout of exercise leading to a 30% tumour suppression in one study (10 male participants) and 60-70% tumour growth in mice with lung cancer.
Chris O’Brien Lifehouse in Sydney has also been working with the University of Sydney exercise and Exercise Physiologists, and were interviewed by the BBC last year, about their work, you can see that here
Exercise! Isn’t it awesome!?!
Stay tuned for Part 2 "Exercise for Cancer: The Prescription" to learn:
How exercises helps to treat cancer & what is going on inside the body!
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Exercise Physiologist and Writer