Physical activity may help improve outcomes for colon cancer patients after surgery

Physical activity may be associated with better outcomes for patients undergoing postoperative treatment for stage III colon cancer.

A new study from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, evaluated 1,696 patients who had undergone surgery and chemotherapy to treat stage III colon cancer. The study looked at how different types and intensities of physical activity might impact how long patients remained alive and disease-free. Specifically, the researchers assessed the overall amount of physical activity the patients engaged in, as well as the type of activity. The researchers compared light and moderate physical activity, vigorous aerobic activity, brisk walking, and muscle-strengthening exercises.

Although many colon cancer patients initially overcome the disease, up to a third experience a cancer relapse that is often incurable. Prior to this study, it was unknown how different types and intensities of physical activity impacted disease recurrence and death in colon cancer survivors. Current clinical guidelines encourage patients to simply avoid inactivity.

“Colon cancer survivors are generally told that inactivity is best avoided. However, many patients want specific guidance on the types of activity that can maximize their likelihood of recovery. This study provides oncologists and their patients with specific information about exactly what type of activity will be most helpful in their goal of staying alive and cancer-free,” said Pennington Biomedical Cancer Metabolism Program Director Justin Brown, PhD, who has led the study.” What we found was that greater volumes of recreational physical activity, longer durations of light-to-moderate intensity aerobic physical activity or any vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity were associated with the best chance of staying alive and cancer-free. Patients must first identify a physical activity they enjoy, then refer to the study results to determine how much of that activity is needed to achieve such a health benefit. If you enjoy the activity, you are more likely to continue with it over time.

The study was part of an existing National Cancer Institute (NCI) trial that compared certain pharmaceutical treatments in patients who had undergone surgery to treat their colon cancer. The patients were followed for almost six years.

We were fortunate to be able to conduct this study as part of the NCI study. By conducting this study as part of the NCI trial, we have eliminated many of the common limitations of previous studies to allow us to focus on what will benefit the patient and what might not. »

Justin Brown, PhD, Pennington Biomedical Cancer Metabolism Program Director

“We know that healthy habits throughout life can make a difference in the overall well-being of cancer survivors. This cutting-edge research project provides patients with very specific recommendations on how they can regain some level of control against a disease that often seems overwhelming,” said Pennington Biomedical Executive Director John Kirwan, PhD.

The review article contains detailed tables describing the benefits associated with different types of physical activity and the ideal amount per week to achieve disease-free survival.


Journal reference:

Brown, J.C. et al. (2022) Physical activity in stage III colon cancer: CALGB/SWOG 80702 (Alliance). Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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