Study Examines Effect of Physical Activity on Recurrence in Patients Previously Treated for Colorectal Cancer

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Researchers have found that postoperative physical activity was associated with improved disease-free survival among patients previously treated for stage III colorectal cancer, according to a novel study published by Brown et al in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

“With March being National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the timing of these findings is especially relevant for so many [patients] around the country, and the world, who have been treated for [colorectal] cancer in the past,” highlighted lead study author Justin Brown, PhD, Assistant Professor of Cancer Energetics and Director of the Cancer Metabolism Program at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.


Physical activity is known to be safe for cancer survivors and is recommended during chemotherapy. Previous studies have also shown that physical activity during chemotherapy may improve quality of life and reduce fatigue. Physical activity may also benefit cardiovascular health and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in the long term.

Study Methods and Results

In the new prospective nested cohort study, the researchers asked 1,696 patients with stage III colorectal cancer who received chemotherapy to self-report their physical activity during and after treatment between June 2010 and November 2015. The researchers found that the rate of cancer recurrence in physically active patients never exceeded that of physically inactive patients. Additionally, the disease-free survival benefit of physical activity persisted for approximately 1 year after surgical resection, and the overall survival benefit of physical activity persisted for approximately 3 years after surgery. The researchers also found that those who were physically active shortly after surgery may have seen the greatest level of benefit regarding cancer recurrence.


“In this observational study of patients with stage III [colorectal] cancer, postoperative physical activity [was] associated with improved disease-free survival by lowering the recurrence rate within the first year of treatment, which translates into an overall survival benefit,” Dr. Brown and his colleagues emphasized.

The researchers explained that their findings could have an impact on clinical practice in the future by refining the understanding of how physical activity might improve cancer survivorship in a manner relevant to tumor biology and cancer care delivery—and may be particularly relevant for patients seeking to understand the optimal time to begin physical activity to reduce their cancer recurrence risk.

Disclosure: The research in this study was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, the ECOG–ACRIN Cancer Research Group, the SWOG Cancer Research Group, and the Journal of Cell Biology. For full disclosures of the study authors, visit


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