By: Dr. Adam McLeod, ND, BSc
Everyone has heard that exercise is good for your wellbeing. This is not debated at all in the medical community yet when it comes to cancer care patients often forget about the benefits of exercise as they focus their attention on more exotic treatment plans. Exercise is not a cure for cancer but it is certainly an important part of an integrative cancer program.
How does exercise benefit cancer patients? It turns out that there are a number of different reasons why exercise has such a positive impact on cancer patients. The immune system becomes more activated during exercise as the monocytes increase the concentration of specific receptors on their surface1. There are numerous physiological and psychological changes that occur with regular exercise that are very beneficial to cancer patients3.
Several studies clearly demonstrate that patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation do much better if they are exercising regularly2,4. Patients who regularly exercise during these therapies have better clinical outcomes and significantly improved quality of life. Although this is well established in the medical community it is rarely suggested by medical oncologists. This attitude needs to change because when the body is being exposed to toxic treatments it is essential to use every tool at our disposal to help the body adapt to this stress. Exercise is certainly one of many effective basic tools that can help patients deal with the stress of chemotherapy and radiation.
Not only is exercise important during cancer therapies, it is also effective at preventing cancer recurrence7. Although some researchers dispute the significance of recurrence prevention, no one disputes that regular exercise decreases overall mortality in cancer survivors5,6. Women with estrogen positive breast cancer after a successful surgery will be put on tamoxifen for 5 years minimum to reduce the risk of recurrence by only a few percentage points8. In a prospective observational study of almost 3000 RN’s with a history of breast cancer, it showed that women who walked 3-5 hours per week were 43% less likely to develop recurrent breast cancer and 50% less likely to die from breast cancer than women who engaged in less than 1 hour of physical activity per week9. I find it amazing that some patients will readily adhere to taking a drug for 5-10 years yet they are resistant to exercising.
The bottom line is that at every phase in cancer therapy, regular exercise is a powerful adjunct to conventional cancer therapy. It helps to prevent the development of cancer. It helps patients get through the aggressive cancer therapies necessary to kill the cancer. Regular exercise also helps to prevent the recurrence of cancer after a successfully eliminating the cancerous cells. More cancer patients need to be aware of the simple fact that regular exercise makes a big difference when fighting cancer.
A Naturopathic doctor that works with oncology will take the time to look at your case and help you effectively integrate exercise into your program. Contact Yaletown Naturopathic Clinic to see how Naturopathic medicine can help you.
Dr. Adam McLeod is a Naturopathic Doctor (ND), BSc. (Hon) Molecular biology, First Nations Healer, Motivational Speaker and International Best Selling Author. He currently practices at his clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia where he focuses on integrative oncology. http://www.yaletownnaturopathic.com
1) Peters, C., et al. “Exercise, cancer and the immune response of monocytes.” Anticancer research 15.1 (1994): 175-179.
2) Mock, Victoria, et al. “Effects of exercise on fatigue, physical functioning, and emotional distress during radiation therapy for breast cancer.” Oncology nursing forum. Vol. 24. No. 6. 1997.
3) Burnham, Timothy R., and Anthony Wilcox. “Effects of exercise on physiological and psychological variables in cancer survivors.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2002).
4) Courneya, KERRY S. “Exercise in cancer survivors: an overview of research.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 35.11 (2003): 1846-1852.
5) Irwin, Melinda L., et al. “Randomized controlled trial of aerobic exercise on insulin and insulin-like growth factors in breast cancer survivors: the Yale Exercise and Survivorship study.” Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention 18.1 (2009): 306-313.
6) Irwin, Melinda L., et al. “Influence of pre-and postdiagnosis physical activity on mortality in breast cancer survivors: the health, eating, activity, and lifestyle study.” Journal of clinical oncology 26.24 (2008): 3958-3964.
7) Loprinzi, Paul D., et al. “Physical activity and the risk of breast cancer recurrence: a literature review.” Oncology nursing forum. Vol. 39. No. 3. Oncology Nursing Society, 2012.
8) Early Breast Cancer Trialists’ Collaborative Group. “Relevance of breast cancer hormone receptors and other factors to the efficacy of adjuvant tamoxifen: patient-level meta-analysis of randomised trials.” The lancet 378.9793 (2011): 771-784.
9) Holmes, Michelle D., et al. “Physical activity and survival after breast cancer diagnosis.” Jama 293.20 (2005): 2479-2486.