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Physical Activity Helps Cancer Survivors Fend Off Side Effects

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Key Points

  • Walking 3 or more hours per week helped improve the hormone functioning and vitality of prostate cancer survivors, and the effect was even more notable among survivors who walked at a normal or fast pace, compared to a slower stroll.
  • A total of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise helped reduce symptoms of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy in colorectal cancer survivors.
  • Survivors who were less active experienced more symptoms of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy and a subsequent lower quality of life.

Three or more hours of walking per week can boost the vitality and health of prostate cancer survivors. Men and women who have survived colorectal cancer and are regular walkers also reported lower sensations of burning, numbness, tingling, or loss of reflexes that many often experience after treatment. These findings are among those of two studies published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship that highlight the benefits of exercise for cancer survivors.

Prostate Cancer Survivors

In the first study, a group of researchers led by Siobhan Phillips, PhD, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, weighed the benefits of various types and intensities of exercise for prostate cancer survivors against a more sedentary lifestyle. This follows a survey of 1,917 men diagnosed with the disease before 2005 in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, based at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.

Dr. Phillips’ team found that 3 or more hours per week of walking helped to improve the hormone functioning and vitality of survivors. A higher hormone score is often associated with fewer feelings of depression or body weight changes, among other benefits. The effect of exercise was even more notable among survivors who walked more than 90 minutes a week at a normal or fast pace, rather than walking at an easier amble. Although walking proved to benefit prostate cancer survivors, the results regarding weightlifting were less clear, as it was associated with slightly increased urinary incontinence.

“Encouraging men to engage in nonvigorous activity and walking may be helpful for managing prostate cancer–related quality of life,” said Dr. Phillips.

Colorectal Cancer Survivors

Findings from a second study mirror the benefits of physical activity found in Dr. Phillips’ research. It was led by Floortje Mols, PhD, of Tilburg University, The Netherlands, and examined the data of 1,648 colorectal cancer survivors contained in a regional population-based survey in The Netherlands.

Colorectal cancer survivors often suffer from chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, caused by nerve damage. This condition causes a tingling or burning sensation in the hands and feet, itching, muscle weakness, or a loss of reflexes.

Dr. Mols’ research showed that patients who do at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week experienced fewer of these symptoms 2 to 11 years after being diagnosed with cancer. Those who are less active not only have more such symptoms but also experience a subsequent lower quality of life.

“Regular physical activity plays an important role in colorectal cancer prevention, recurrence, and mortality,” said Dr. Mols.

At least nine out of every ten Dutch colorectal survivors seem to be getting enough exercise, according to the study. “Surviving a lifestyle-related illness perhaps makes patients more aware of the importance of physical activity,” explained Dr. Mols.

Drs. Phillips and Mols are the corresponding authors of each of their respective articles in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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