Wellness Wednesday: Exercise and cancer

by Jeannie Hannan, Ph.D., EngAge Wellness | April 23, 2014

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The National Cancer Institute (NCI) reports that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer including: colon, breast, endometrial, and lung.

Risk reductions range from 30 to 40 percent for colon cancer, 20 to 80 percent for breast cancer, 20 to 40 percent for endometrial cancer, and approximately 20 percent for lung cancer. In addition, NCI reports that men who exercise may experience a reduction in risk of prostate cancer.

In addition to risk reduction, experts believe that cancer survivors, including those currently undergoing treatment, can experience many benefits from exercise. Potential benefits of exercise for cancer survivors are numerous and include improvement of physical function, aerobic capacity, strength and flexibility.

In addition, exercise is key in maintaining a healthy weight and healthy body image. Exercise may positively influence quality-of-life factors including fatigue and anxiety associated with recurrence. In addition, exercise may help survivors in their physical and psychological ability to complete treatment. Finally, researchers suggest that exercise may reduce or prevent long-term and late effects of treatment.

In 2009, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) brought together a panel of 13 researchers with expertise in cancer, fitness, obesity and exercise training to review evidence for the following adult cancer survivor populations: breast, prostate, colon, hematologic and gynecologic cancers. In turn, this team developed guidelines on exercise and physical activity for these cancer survivor populations.

The ACSM exercise guidelines for cancer survivors encourage survivors to avoid inactivity. Recommendations also include returning to normal daily activities as quickly as possible after surgery and to continue those activities as much as possible during and after nonsurgical treatments. The guidelines also stress that exercise programs should be individualized according to each survivor's fitness level, medical conditions, response to treatment, and any negative effects of treatment that they are experiencing at any given time.

Jeannie Hannan, Ph.D., is UNMC's EngAge Wellness manager.