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One hour of exercise daily reduces the mortality risk of cancer survivors

People who received treatment for cancer many years ago can dramatically boost their chances of survival by doing exercise every day in their free time. This emerged from an epidemiological study that Australian sports scientists at the Edith Cowan University published in Frontiers in Public Health.

The researchers studied a group of 1589 people who had been diagnosed by doctors as having cancer an average of nine years previously. The researchers measured how many minutes of exercise the participants got each week, and then recorded which participants died in the next 2.5 years. The Australians did the same with a comparable group of 3145 people who as far as was known did not have cancer.

It was already known that physical exercise reduces the mortality risk of cancer, but all research that has been published so far has been done on people who had been diagnosed has having cancer relatively recently. This is the first study on the effect of exercise on long-term cancer survivors.

The cancer survivors had a higher death rate than the participants with no cancer history. But for both groups it was true that the more they exercised, the lower their chance of dying was. The first figure below shows the percentage of participants that died from cancer; the second figure shows the percentage of participants that died from all causes.

One hour of exercise daily reduces the mortality risk of cancer survivors

One hour of exercise daily reduces the mortality risk of cancer survivors

The mortality figures are small. One of the reasons for that is that the researchers only followed the participants for an average of 2.5 years.

In the figures below the chance of dying of the participants that got no or hardly any exercise in both groups is set at 1. In addition, the researchers filtered out the effects of age, alcohol, smoking, gender, BMI, fruit and vegetables, and spiritual and mental health. As you can see, physical exercise reduced the chance of dying in both groups. The more exercise, the better.

One hour of exercise daily reduces the mortality risk of cancer survivors

One hour of exercise daily reduces the mortality risk of cancer survivors

"Increases in all-cause and non-cancer-related mortality in cancer survivors have been reported," wrote the researchers. "There are a number of mechanisms by which physical activity may further improve cancer-specific survival in long-term cancer survivors as well as those without prior cancer."

"Since both cohorts (those with and those without prior cancer) observed apparent cancer-specific survival benefits from physical activity, one explanation might be that physical activity reduces the likelihood of cancer incidence, resulting in fewer cancer deaths. [...] An alternative explanation is that physical activity may play a role in improving prognosis of those who develop an incident or second primary cancer. Evidence supporting this has been reported by a number of researchers."

"Although the biological mechanisms through which this is achieved are still unclear, there are a number of promising avenues. The influence of exercise on host factors such as metabolic hormones, inflammation/cytokines, and immune surveillance have been suggested, as have exercise's effects on certain tumor-related factors such as p27, CTNNB1, CACNA2D3, and L3MBTL1."

"In summary, this study suggests physical activity is associated with improved cancer-specific and all-cause survival in long-term survivors of cancer," concluded the Australians. "These associations were comparable in magnitude to those seen in a non-cancer cohort of similar age and gender, selected from the same source population."

"Evidence also suggested further benefits in survival may be achieved by those exceeding 360 min of leisure-time physical activity per week, regardless of an individual's prior cancer status."

Front Public Health. 2017 Feb 14;5:19.

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