Exercise for Cancer Prevention, Treatment and Survival - IM

Exercise for Cancer Prevention, Treatment and Survival
By Miles Hassell, M.D., medical director, Providence Integrative Medicine Program

Some benefits of exercise
·         Helps prevent cancer
·         Improves the likelihood of surviving cancer
·         Lessens the side effects of cancer treatment
·         Heightens energy levels
·         Leads to a better quality of life

The recent announcement from the American Cancer Society that one-third of the more than 500,000 cancer deaths that occur in the United States each year can be attributed to poor diet and exercise is a wake-up call to all of us concerned about cancer prevention.

Exercising and maintaining a healthful diet are as important as quitting smoking when it comes to reducing cancer risk. At Providence Integrative Medicine, we are committed to prescribing beneficial diet and exercise programs to patients currently undergoing treatment for cancer.

At first, this might strike you as counterintuitive. After all, is it reasonable to ask a cancer patient to go to the effort to get exercise? With all the things to which a cancer patient already has to devote limited time and energy, why add exercise?

Exercise is worth considering as a therapeutic tool at every stage of cancer treatment, and beyond. Consider the findings of several studies:

  • Women with breast cancer who exercised had improved quality of life, better fitness and less fatigue than control patients who did not exercise, and were able to function at a higher level. 
  • Although long-term, randomized prospective studies have not been done, observational data from the Nurses Health Study suggest that breast cancer patients who exercise have much better survival, with death rates of about 50 percent of those who do little or no exercise.  
  • Another recent study looked at patients with many types of cancer who were undergoing chemotherapy, and found a significant reduction in anxiety and depression in the patients who exercised.  
  • Exercise has been found to help maintain blood counts during chemotherapy. 
  • Exercise appears to fight the harmful muscle loss associated with advanced cancer.

Exercise seems to benefit even those who are getting very aggressive therapies. For example, in a prospective, controlled study of patients undergoing high-dose chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation, those who got aerobic exercise after completing treatment experienced less fatigue and fewer limitations in their daily activities.

For the cancer survivor, exercise continues to provide the same range of benefits seen in people who don't have cancer. Exercise improves mood and reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and dementia. Observational data also suggest that it reduces the risk of primary cancers, such as colorectal, breast, lung and prostate cancer.

It is suspected that this preventive benefit also holds true for cancer survivors, who are at increased risk of future cancer. Adopting an exercise program takes only a little effort initially. A physician or a fitness advisor, such as a physical therapist, can recommend a form of exercise that fits with the patient’s clinical situation. Often, something as simple as walking for just a few minutes per day is a great start, with the hope of building up to the 30 to 60 minutes daily recommended by the American Cancer Society. Exercise is beneficial whether you do it all at once or split it into several smaller chunks throughout the day. 

Visit Providence Integrative Medicine for a complete, personalized health maintenance plan
(503) 216-0246.