Is exercise an effective cancer therapy?

Exercise may be as effective as medication, as a means of treating cancer(Credit: r.g-s/C.C. 2.0)

While it's well-known that regular exercise can help you avoid getting cancer in the first place, researchers now believe that it could also be useful in actually combating the disease. An upcoming study led by University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) researchers aims to provide a more concrete answer to the question – can exercise really help fight cancer?

Not getting enough regular exercise can have a big negative impact on health. According to Cancer Research UK, lack of exercise played a role in more than five million deaths globally in 2008, and as many as 3,400 cancer cases in the UK in 2011 were strongly linked to low physical activity.

On the other hand, studies have found that exercise can lower your risk of developing bowel cancer by a quarter, womb cancer by 30 percent, and breast cancer by 12 percent. Furthermore, a large-scale study in the US confirmed that exercise even increases life expectancy.

Really though, the news that exercise is good for you, and that being physically fitter can help fight of dangerous diseases, is unlikely to come as that much of a shock. What's more intriguing is the idea that it could actually be used as a key treatment in fighting cancer. According to CRCHUM researchers, it's possible that it could even be as effective as medication.

Of course, we need solid evidence to back up that claim, and that's exactly what the new study aims to obtain. The large-scale trial, which has already started in Ireland and Australia, will see some 60 hospitals across the globe recruit patients. All in, some 900 men with advanced prostate cancer will participate.

During the course of the work, the participants will continue to receive their usual cancer therapies and medication. However, while half will receive some recommendations of physical exercise to complete during the course of treatment, the other half will follow a high-intensity exercise program throughout.

Specifically, they'll complete a specially designed strength and cardiovascular training program, consisting of one hour of aerobic and resistance training three times per week. They'll be directly supervised for the first year to ensure that they're properly completing the work.

Doctors will take blood samples and conduct muscle biopsies in order to assess how the two groups are progressing. On a basic level, it's hoped that the increased exercise will help strengthen patient muscles and bones, lowering the occurrence of complications related to metastases, such as fractures.

On a deeper level, the researchers hope to find evidence that exercise has a more direct impact on the progression of the disease, past just helping patients better tolerate therapy. We'll have to wait a little while to find out for sure whether exercise can truly help fight cancer, with full results expected in around five years.

Further details of the study will be presented by CRCHUM's Dr. Fred Saad at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago next month.

Source: CRCHUM

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