Exercise is a proven 'medicine' for cancer


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7 May 2015

Regular and vigorous exercise has been scientifically established as providing strong preventative medicine against cancer, according to West Australian Professor Daniel Galvão.

Professor Galvão, who is presenting at the Royal Australian College of Surgeon's Annual Scientific Congress (ASC) in Perth this week, says exercise has an important role to play in the prevention and management of cancer with numerous observational studies also suggesting a protective effect of exercise after a cancer diagnosis.

"The effect is strongest for breast and colorectal cancer however evidence is accumulating for the protective influence on prostate cancer," Professor Galvão said.

The Professor or Exercise Science and Co-Director of the Edith Cowan University Health and Wellness Institute in Perth said that following cancer diagnosis, exercise prescription could have very positive benefits for improving surgical outcomes, reducing symptom experience, managing side effects of radiation and chemotherapy, improving psychological health, maintaining physical function, and reducing fat gain and muscle and bone loss.

"Hormone therapies for breast and prostate cancer can result in an alarmingly increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and sarcopenia.

"Increasingly, patients are questioning the benefit of some cancer treatments as the risk of morbidity and mortality from other chronic diseases begins to outweigh the initial cancer diagnosis.

"Over three decades of research in exercise science demonstrate the efficacy of appropriate physical activity for preventing and managing these secondary diseases," Professor Galvão said.

"Based on this evidence it is now clear to us that exercise is a critical adjuvant therapy in the management of many cancers and can greatly enhance the therapeutic effects of traditional radiation and pharmaceutical treatments by increasing tolerance, reducing side effects, and lowering risk of chronic diseases, even those not aggravated by cancer treatment," he said.

Regular exercise should be encouraged in all populations, particularly those at higher risk of cancer and further to that, Professor Galvão said that exercise as medicine must be incorporated in the routine clinical care of cancer patients to improve quality of life as well as reduce morbidity and possible extend survival.

Professor Galvão's research has been published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, European Urology and Cancer and he has co-authored the Exercise and Sports Science Australia position stand in exercise and cancer (2009) and the American College of Sports Medicine's exercise guidelines for cancer survivors (2010) 

Over a thousand surgeons from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons as well as international surgeons from the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh are gathering at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre from 4-8 May for a series of workshops, discussions, Plenaries and masterclasses across a broad range of surgical issues.

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