Exercise Boosts Colon Cancer Survival

Increasing Physical Activity After Treatment May Up Odds of Survival 50%

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 14, 2006
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July 14, 2006 -- Regular exercise may help coloncancercancer survivors beat their disease for good.

New research suggests people who have been treated for colon cancer can reduce their risk of the cancer coming back, and improve their odds of survival, by as much as 50% by engaging in regular exercise, such as walking.

"From previous studies we know that regular physical activity reduces the risk of developing colon cancer, but until now few studies have looked at the survival effect of exercise on people who have been treated for disease," says researcher Jeffrey Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, in a news release.

A pair of studies on two different groups of colon cancer survivors both showed people who exercised regularly after completing colon cancer therapy were more likely to be alive and cancer-free six to 12 months after treatment than those who didn't exercise.

Understand Colon Cancer: Stage By Stage

"To reduce the chances that colon cancer will return after treatment, as well as for overall health reasons, regular exercise is a good option for survivors to consider," says Meyerhardt, who also is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. Both studies are scheduled for publication in the Aug. 1 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Exercise After Colon Cancer Treatment

In the first study, researchers followed 832 people with advanced, stage III colon cancer who had received surgery and follow-up chemotherapy.

Six months after completing therapy, the study showed that those who exercised regularly -- the equivalent of walking six or more hours a week at a pace of 2 to 2.9 miles per hour -- were almost 50% more likely to be alive and free of cancer than those who were less physically active.

The second study followed 573 participants in the Nurses' Health Study who had been diagnosed with early to advanced colon cancer. Six months after treatment, researchers found those who had increased their level of physical activity after their cancer diagnosis had an approximately 50% lower risk of dying from colon cancer or from any other cause than those who remained inactive.

"The fact that two different sets of data have yielded such similar results encourages us about the validity of our findings," says Meyerhardt. "It appears that the amount of exercise prior to diagnosis doesn't affect the outcome of treatment. What matters is exercising after standard therapy has been completed."

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SOURCES: Meyerhart, J. Journal of Clinical Oncology, July 5, 2006 early online release. News release, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
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