Exercise May Cut Risk of Colon Cancer's Return
May 17, 2005 (Orlando, Fla.) -- For the second time in as many days, new
research suggests that lifestyle changes can fend off new tumors in people who
survive cancer the first time around.
In the latest study, people treated for colon cancer were about half as
likely to die or have their tumors return if they participated in regular,
moderate-intensity physical activity as those who rarely exercised.
Yesterday, other researchers reported that postmenopausal breast cancer
survivors who cut down on fats in their diet also cut the chance their cancer
would come back.
"Finally, we have a hint that lifestyle changes can make a difference
for people with cancer," says Douglas W. Blayney, MD, medical director of
the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor.
After completing treatment, "almost every cancer patient asks if there
is something they can do to prevent a recurrence," says Blayney, who was
not involved with either study, "But up to now, we've had no evidence that
diet or exercise help."
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of
Physical Activity Benefits Colon Cancer Patients
The study included 832 people who were still alive one year after undergoing
surgery followed by chemotherapy to treat colon cancer.
"Right after you have chemo and part of your colon taken out, physical
activity is a little hard, so we looked at them a year later, when they're
presumably more stable," says researcher Jeffrey A. Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, of
the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Participants were asked what type of exercise they did, how often they
exercised, and how hard they exercised.
After nearly two years, those who exercised the equivalent of
"moderate-paced" walking an hour a day, six days a week were 49% less
likely to have a recurrence or die, compared with those who rarely exercised,
A moderate pace is about 2-3 miles an hour, Meyerhardt tells WebMD.
Other types of physical activity count, too. "The same levels of health
benefit can be attained by jogging three times a week or playing tennis three
or four times a week, for example," he says.
Advice for Cancer Survivors
Previous studies have shown that physical activity can lower the risk of
ever developing colon cancer, but the new research is the first to suggest a
benefit for people who already have the disease, Meyerhardt says.
J. Len Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer
Society (ACS), agrees. He points out that the ACS already recommends that
adults get 45 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week to prevent breast
and colon cancer.
"This important finding, while needing confirmation, suggests that by
maintaining this level of activity after a diagnosis of colon cancer, you can
improve your outlook," he tells WebMD. That said, most people with colon
cancer are diagnosed in their late 60s, a time of life when they're "not
that active," he says.
While that doesn't diminish the value of the recommendation, Lichtenfeld
also tells people not to be scared off if it sounds like too much.
"The important thing is to get out and do something," he says.
The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 105,000 Americans will
develop colon cancer this year; over 56,000 will die of the disease.