Exercise Is Good Medicine for Advanced Colon Cancer

Waging a successful battle against advanced colon cancer should include regular doses of exercise, a new study suggests.

It found that physical activity was associated with slower cancer progression and reductions in severe treatment side effects in more than 1,200 patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Exercise — even low-intensity activity such as walking — helped.

“What we found was that people who engaged in some type of physical activity had a statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival [20%]” said senior study author Dr. Jeffrey Meyerhardt, from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

The results also suggested that exercise might extend overall survival, but the data were not statistically significant and that possible connection requires further investigation.

“Physically active patients in our study also appeared to tolerate chemotherapy better,” said study first author Dr. Brendan Guercio, who worked on the study while a hospitalist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“Total physical activity equivalent to 30 or more minutes of moderate daily activity was associated with a 27% reduction in severe treatment-related toxicities,” Guercio said in a Dana-Farber news release.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Previous studies have found that regular exercise can reduce the risk of recurrence and death from colon cancer that has not spread to other parts of the body, but this is the first study to examine the link between physical activity and survival in advanced colon cancer patients, according to the researchers.

The findings “help justify encouraging patients to exercise and referring patients to physical therapists or programs like the YMCA Livestrong program that does small-group training for patients with cancer,” Meyerhardt said in the release.

All of the patients in the study were receiving chemotherapy and the findings do not suggest that exercise should be substituted for chemotherapy or any other standard cancer therapy, the researchers emphasized.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more on cancer patients and exercise.