News Release

Keep moving, studies advise cancer survivors

Dutch and US cancer researchers reiterate benefits of exercise for cancer survivors

Peer-Reviewed Publication


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 as well report lower sensations of burning, numbness, tingling or loss of reflexes that many often experience post-treatment. These are among the findings of two studies published in Springer's Journal of Cancer Survivorship that highlight the benefits of exercise for cancer survivors.

In the first, a group of American researchers led by Siobhan Phillips of Northwestern University weighed up 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.

Phillips' team found that three 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 others. 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. While 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 non-vigorous activity and walking may be helpful for managing prostate cancer-related quality of life," says Phillips.

Findings from the Dutch study mirror the benefits of physical activity found in the American paper. It was led by Floortje Mols of Tilburg University, and examined the data of 1,648 colorectal cancer survivors contained in a regional population-based survey.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer among men and women. Its survivors often suffer from chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) caused by nerve damage. They experience a tingling or burning sensation in their hands and feet, itching, muscle weakness or a loss of reflexes.

The Dutch study shows that patients who do at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week experienced fewer of these symptoms two to eleven 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," says Mols.

One positive note from this study is that at least nine out of every ten Dutch colorectal survivors seems to be getting enough exercise. "Surviving a lifestyle-related illness perhaps makes patients more aware of the importance of physical activity," explains Mols.


References: Mols, F. et al (2015). Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, physical activity and health-related quality of life among colorectal cancer survivors from the PROFILES registry, Journal of Cancer Survivorship. DOI 10.1007/s11764-015-0427-1

Phillips, S.M. et al (2015). Physical activity, sedentary behavior, and health-related quality of life in prostate cancer survivors in the health professionals follow-up study, Journal of Cancer Survivorship. DOI 10.1007/s11764-015-0426-2

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