The Role of Exercise in Cancer Prevention and Treatment

As we enter the last month of an extraordinary year, we’re going to spend the next few editions of the Cancer Pro blog, looking at different aspects of cancer and the impact it can have on life in general.

We are starting by looking at the role that exercise has to play in the prevention and treatment of cancer.

In a study undertaken in the US in 2018, a panel of experts released a series of guidelines that suggested that not only can exercise contribute to helping to prevent cancer, in particular, bladder, breast, colon, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and uterine cancer.

By keeping an active lifestyle even when diagnosed with cancer can yield positive outcomes as it can also help to improve survival rates amongst people with breast, colon, and prostate cancer. Plus it helps to improve the quality of life and reduce the side effects of various cancer treatments.

How much exercise?

From the study, researchers recommend that people with cancer should aim for a combination of 30 minutes of moderate aerobic type activity three times a week and muscle-strengthening exercises such as weights 2 to 3 times a week. In addition to this balance, training should also be considered as part of the fitness regime.

However, this was just a general view, and that individual requirement should be tailored to suit the unique needs of people with cancer.

With regards to cancer prevention, the study went on to recommended general physical activity of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week was a must.

Why exercise works?

Including exercise as part of your daily routine, has been found to decrease the likelihood of remission in some cancers, including breast cancer.

Also, exercise can have many biological effects on the body, some of which have been associations with specific cancers, these include

  • Lowering the levels of sex hormones, such as estrogen, and growth factors that have been associated with cancer, in particular the development and progression of breast and colon cancer.
  • Preventing high blood levels of insulin, which has been linked to cancer to the development and progression of breast and colon cancer.
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Improving the overall immune system so allowing the body to properly function and ward off disease
  • Altering the metabolism of bile acids, decreasing the exposure of the gastrointestinal tract to these suspected carcinogens in Colon Cancer.
  • Helping to reduce the time it takes for food to travel through the digestive system, which decreases gastrointestinal tract exposure to possible carcinogens associated with colon cancer.
  • It helps to slow weight gain, so helping to prevent obesity, which is a significant risk for many people living with cancer.

The benefits of exercise

There is strong evidence to suggest that moderate-intensity aerobic training and/or resistance exercise during and after cancer treatment can help to significantly reduce anxiety, depressive symptoms, and fatigue and improve health-related quality of life and physical functions in cancer survivors.

Exercise is also beneficial for bone health and sleep quality, plus regular exercise training is safe in persons who have or might develop breast-cancer-related lymphedema. Also, several studies have suggested that there is a possibility that physical activity may have beneficial effects on survival for patients with breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.

Remember, it takes more than exercise.

While exercise does have a crucial role to play in the prevention and treatment of cancer, it is only one of the many ways to avoid or control things known to cause cancer. Others include changes in diet and lifestyle and of course, stopping smoking.

Smoking or the effects of passive smoking is strongly linked to an increased risk for many kinds of cancer and is the leading cause of many forms of cancer, not just lung cancer.

Here in Malaysia, it is estimated that 25% of Malaysians are smokers, and they are up to 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer.

The Last word

Despite all of the findings from the study the exact reasons why exercise affects certain cancers in different ways still needs a lot more research, and whilst there is no one ‘best’ practice when it comes to exercising. Anything that gets people up and about and taking care of their body has got to be a good thing.

About Cancer Pro

Cancer Pro is the voice of the worlds cancer physicians and oncology professionals in Malaysia and is the trusted compassionate, resource for people with cancer, their families and caregivers. For more facts regarding how exercise can help with the prevention and treatment of cancer, please visit www.