Exercise During Cancer Treatment

You might think I’m crazy when I say you should definitely be using exercise as therapy during active treatment for cancer. When in fact, research has shown that second to traditional cancer therapies, exercise combined alongside nutritional support are the most effective adjuvant therapies.images

Exercise is medicine!!!

So, how does it work?? What exactly am i talking about??

Exercise and tumor growth

Exercise inhibits tumor metastasis (growth/spread)

  • Physical activity produces a large surge in a hormone called epinephrine.
  • This hormone plays a role in inhibiting the pathway that is involved in processes such as cell growth and spread.

Exercise mobilises immune cells

  • Not only are immune cells acutely mobilised (and distributed to the tumor site) through exercise but it also stimulates the production of new immune cells
  • Exercise has the greatest effect on natural killer cells (anti-cancer cells)

Exercise acutely before treatment enhances the uptake of the drug

  • A bout of exercise immediately prior to chemo or radiation therapy can enhance the effectiveness of the drug

Treatment related side effects

During treatment (chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormone therapy etc), we see many side effects. Exercise has an important role in easing and managing side effects. This can include:

  • Cancer related fatigueIMG_4565
  • Decline in muscle mass and increase in fat mass
  • “Chemo brain” or cognitive decline.
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Peripheral neuropathy – loss of sensation in the limbs
  • Osteopenia and osteoporosis
  • …..the list is endless!!!

Treatment related toxicities/dose modifications

Those who participate in regular exercise have been found to have less toxicity during treatment and generally show an increased compliance with treatment dosages!!

This is also true as treatments are dosed according to body mass. Those people with low levels of muscle and high levels of fat are associated with a high risk of toxicity and dose reduction. Therefore optimising our body composition through exercise (i.e. increasing our muscle and reducing our fat) reduces our risk of these complications.

So what does all this mean?

In short – you should be doing exercise throughout cancer treatment to optimise the effects of the treatment, manage side effects and increase your chance of compliance with the treatment.

Seek the help of an accredited exercise physiologist to guide you through the most appropriate exercise for you! It is going to vary greatly from person to person but also day to day depending on how each individual takes the treatment.

Remaining safe whilst trying to optimise the outcomes of our treatment is vital!!!