Why Does Exercise Improve Cancer Outcomes?

man and woman walking in park

Men who walked at a fast pace prior to a prostate cancer diagnosis had more regularly shaped blood vessels in their prostate tumors compared with men who walked slowly, providing a potential explanation for why exercise is linked to improved outcomes for men with prostate cancer, according to results presented at the AACR-Prostate Cancer Foundation Conference on Advances in Prostate Cancer Research, held Jan. 18-21.

Background: Men who engage in higher levels of physical activity have been reported to have a lower risk of prostate cancer recurrence and mortality compared with men who participate in little or no physical activity. The biological mechanisms underlying this association are not known.

“Prior research has shown that men with prostate tumors containing more regularly shaped blood vessels have a more favorable prognosis compared with men with prostate tumors containing mostly irregularly shaped blood vessels,” said Erin Van Blarigan, Sc.D., assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco. “In this study, we found that men who reported walking at a brisk pace had more regularly shaped blood vessels in their prostate tumors compared with men who reported walking at a less brisk pace.

The Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which was initiated in 1986, enables researchers to examine how nutritional and lifestyle factors affect the incidence of serious illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease. Every two years, participants receive questionnaires that ask about diseases and health-related topics like smoking, physical activity, and medications taken. Questionnaires that ask detailed dietary information are administered every four years.

Van Blarigan and colleagues investigated whether prediagnostic physical activity was associated with prostate tumor blood vessel regularity among 572 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Prediagnostic physical activity was determined through analysis of questionnaire answers. Blood vessel regularity was established by semiautomated image analysis of the tumor samples. Blood vessels that are perfect circles are considered the ideal shape and given a score of 1. Higher values indicate less regular blood vessels.

The researchers found that men with the fastest walking pace (3.3-4.5 miles per hour) prior to diagnosis had 8 percent more regularly shaped blood vessels compared with men with the slowest walking pace (1.5-2.5 miles per hour).

My Take: The beneficial effects of exercise for those with prostate cancer may well apply to those with other cancer types. So keep moving: Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes per week (of the equivalent of a brisk walk). I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) (2014, January 20). Possible explanation for link between exercise, improved prostate cancer outcomes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2014/01/140120085056.htm

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