Exercise reduces risk of recurrence and death in early stage colon cancer patients

Patients treated for early stage colon cancer fared significantly better if they exercised regularly at the level of an hour’s walk six times a week, according to a study to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

A person’s risk of having a cancer recurrence or dying was lowered by 40 to 50 percent in the 2 1/3 to 3 years following surgery and chemotherapy for stage III colon cancer, reported a team headed by Jeffrey Meyerhardt, MD, MPH, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. The data (abstract 3534) is from the Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALBG) and will be presented during a poster discussion on Tuesday, May 17, 8 a.m. Level 3, 315A.

Although exercise has previously been shown to lower the risk of developing colon cancer, the new findings are the first to demonstrate a benefit for patients who already have the disease.

“There is a growing body of evidence that there are things you can do in addition to chemotherapy for colon cancer survivors to reduce the likelihood that the disease will recur,” says Meyerhardt. “Until now, when doctors were asked by their patients whether they should exercise, some of them probably said it would be a good idea, but it wasn’t a firm recommendation without data to support it.”

The health benefit was found among patients whose activity levels ranked in the top two-fifths of the group, compared to the lowest one-fifth. They exercised at a rate of at least 18 MET-hours (metabolic-equivalent tasks) per week, which could be attained through jogging two to three hours a week, playing tennis a few times a week, or walking briskly an hour a day six times a week, explains Meyerhardt, who is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The study involved patients reporting leisure-time physical activity approximately 12-18 months after surgery. The patients belonged to the same group in which a separate study headed by Dana-Farber researcher Charles Fuchs, MD, MPH, revealed that regular aspirin use reduce recurrence and death risks by about the same magnitude as exercise.

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