One of the largest studies undertaken looking at the impact of exercise on cancer survival was broad in scope, and found a lot of positive results. Looking not only at mortality, the study included the impact of exercise on recurrence and on general health,well-being, and quality of life.
- Exercise has been found to reduce cancer-specific mortality by 28-44%
- Exercise has been found to reduce cancer recurrence 21-35%
- Exercise has been found to improve adverse affects of treatment, like fatigue, anxiety, and distress
- The primary participants in the study were breast cancer survivors, while most of the other participants were prostate and colorectal cancer survivors
Published Epidemiologic Reviews, researchers followed a total of 100 studies, involving thousands of individual patients whose exercise behavior was assessed following the diagnosis of any type of cancer.
There are 2 major categories of health concerns for cancer patients and survivors: 1) concern regarding cancer recurrence and mortality, and 2) the persistent adverse effects of cancer treatment.
Part 1: Exercise impact on Cancer Recurrence and Mortality
Broken into the 2 parts, the first relating to cancer recurrence and mortality followed 68,000 participants, with two-thirds of the participants diagnosed with breast cancer; almost all the others were diagnosed with prostate and colorectal cancers. What they found was encouraging:
- Patients who were more physically active had a lower risk of cancer-specific mortality from a variety of cancer types, with exercise following a cancer diagnosis associated with a 28%– 44% reduced risk of cancer-specific mortality.
- Higher levels of exercise following a diagnosis link to lower risk of cancer recurrence (21% – 35%), and a similar decreased risk of all-cause mortality.
Part 2: Exercise impact on the Adverse Effects of Cancer Treatment
This part of the study looked at cancer treatment-related side-effects including bone health, cognitive function, sexuality, urinary incontinence and nausea. This included meta-analysis related to anxiety, depression, psychosocial distress, emotional well-being, mental health, stress, fatigue; lymphedema; physical function; physical health and quality of life. Their findings here are also encouraging:
- Exercise helps with fatigue. This supports the National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines for managing fatigue, which recommends exercise as the primary approach for managing cancer-related fatigue.
- Exercise helps survivors with distress, anxiety, depression, stress, emotional well-being, and mental health issues that are common experiences for cancer patients and survivors.
- Exercise has a positive effect on sleep, and physical health, although the results were not as strong as the other areas in the study.
Full details about the study are published at Epidemiologic Reviews.