Exercise and Cancer
How are exercise and cancer related? Are you a cancer survivor, or know someone who has been treated for cancer? Most likely you at least know someone close who has died from cancer or has been treated for it. Few people are aware that exercise (regular physical activity) is associated with a decreased risk of some cancers.
And, just as important regular exercise improves quality of life in cancer survivors. Exercise also helps alleviate depression associated with the diagnosis of cancer is a useful therapy in managing the many complications related to cancer surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy including fatigue, bone loss, loss of weight, loss of muscle strength and mass, sleep disturbances, and decrease immune function.
Exercise and Reduced Cancer Risk
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) there is strong evidence cancers of the colon and breast are associated with physical activity with cancer risk decreasing with increasing physical activity. Plus, there’s good evidence to suggest that the risk cancers of the endometrium, lung, and prostate also decrease with physical activity.
The relationship between exercise and cancer is now well established that a panel of the 13 experts in cancer, fitness, obesity, and exercise developed guidelines for patients and physicians alike recommending exercise for cancer survivors. A cancer survivor is anyone who has ever had cancer and is still alive. These guidelines were published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, in July 2010.
Exercise and Cancer Survival
Though exercise can improve quality of life and lessen adverse effects related to cancer treatments, it’s too early to know if exercise extends survival in cancer patients, but emerging evidence suggests that exercise may increase survival in breast and colon cancer survivors. One study found that women with breast cancer who exercised moderately equivalent to walking 3 to 5 hours a week at an average pace had improved survival rates.
Exercise and Cancer: Immune Function
Moderate exercise enhances immune function which is critical in the management of cancer. Exercise may help prevent and manage cancer through biological mechanisms that include improved hormonal balance, improved energy balance, production of insulin-like growth factors (a good thing), improved antioxidant defense system, and overall enhance immunity. Moderate exercise is anti-inflammatory in nature and inflammation is a component of cancer.
Special Exercise Considerations in Cancer Survivors
Cancer and cancer treatment can lead to medical issues that require recognition before a cancer survivor embarks on an exercise program. Some cancer treatments can lead to bone loss that increases the risk of a bone fracture. Some cancer treatments can adversely affect peripheral nerve function that may make exercising more challenging. Other treatments can cause cardiomyopathy that weakens the heart’s ability to contract. Breast cancer survivors may have swelling or lymphedema of the upper extremities, and colon cancer patients with an ostomy are at risk of developing a hernia from excessive intra-abdominal pressure associated with exercise. These are matters that need to be recognized and perhaps require modification of the exercise program to ensure safety.
The overall message to cancer survivors is simple: AVOID INACTIVITY.