Educational Information: Exercise Helps Odds of Surviving Cancer

Excerpted from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 29, 2011.

About 44% of men and 38% of women will get cancer at some point in their lives. The odds of surviving cancer increase dramatically if the person gets at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise according to a recently published British study.

“Move More” a review of the findings of 60 studies on the effects of exercise on cancer published by the MacMillan Cancer Support Center of Britain concluded that women with breast cancer who exercise can reduce their risk of breast cancer recurrence by 40%.

The exercise cited in the study “doesn’t need to be anything too strenuous” according to Ciaran Devane, chief executive officer of the MacMillan Center. Doing the gardening, going for a brisk walk or a swim all count, Jane Raymond, Director of the Division of Medical Oncology at Allegheny General Hospital always recommends exercise to her patients.

The exercise has other benefits as well. Kelley Davis, 30, a breast cancer survivor ran 6 miles a day prior to her diagnosis and ran 3 miles a day during her treatment. “I don’t know how I would have been able to get through all the treatment had I not been exercising”. Exercise helps with the fatigue women experience while undergoing treatment. Another benefit of exercise is stress relief. Exercise “definitely was a big stress reliever”, Ms. Davis said. “I felt like I was accomplishing something even though everything else in my life wasn’t going as planned.”

“More studies have to be done to determine what effect exercise may have on reducing the risk of getting cancer in the first place and on increasing the prognosis for long term survival” says Josie vanLonden, director of the Cancer LiveWell Survivorship Programs at UPMC’s Hillman Cancer Center and Magee Women’s Hospital,.

Cancer survivors should first seek the advice of their medical oncologist prior to beginning an exercise program. The American College of Sports Medicine working with the American Cancer Society has developed a program to certify trainers to work specifically with cancer patients. The American Cancer Society also cautions survivors to avoid exercise if you have anemia and to stay away from heavy weights if you’ve developed nerve damage or bone cancer.