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Exercise could help ward off cancer

Press release issued: 21 October 2002

Media release
Exercise could help ward off cancer

Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel Prize-winning Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK, will highlight the role of exercise in preventing cancer and helping patients recover from the disease at a special press briefing in Bristol today (October 18).

Cancer Research UK scientists at the University of Bristol have reviewed the scientific literature and found evidence that physical activity could significantly reduce the risk of bowel cancer and may also help prevent breast, prostate, lung and endometrial cancer.

They also found evidence that physical activity could help patients who are recovering from cancer and are launching their own study, funded by the charity, into the benefits of exercise for people undergoing cancer treatment.

Researchers from the Department of Exercise and Health Sciences at the University of Bristol have reported that according to data from 14 studies on physical activity and cancer prevention, people taking part in occupational or leisure activity could substantially reduce their risk of dying from cancer.

Lead researcher, Professor Ken Fox from the Department of Exercise and Health Sciences at the University of Bristol, says: "Physical activity is a crucial component of a healthy lifestyle and we have found a growing body of evidence that indicates it's importance in keeping cancer at bay."

The researchers also reviewed data on specific cancer types and found that exercise could help prevent bowel, lung, breast, endometrial and prostate cancer.

They found compelling evidence from 35 of the 48 studies reviewed on bowel cancer that regular exercise could cut the risk of developing the disease by 40-50 per cent. The protective effect appeared to be confined to cancer of the colon, however, with no relationship demonstrated for rectal cancer.

Professor Fox says: "The evidence of the beneficial effects of exercise is the strongest for colon cancer. The data suggests that lack of physical activity alone could be a major risk factor for the disease."

From over forty studies on exercise and breast cancer incidence, a protective effect was demonstrated in the majority with there being typically a 30 per cent reduction in the risk of the disease in women who exercised on a regular basis. Generally, the benefits of exercise were stronger for post-menopausal women than pre-menopausal women. There was some evidence that physical activity in puberty could reduce the risk of developing the disease in adulthood but women exercising throughout their lifetime had a greater reduced risk.

Six out of eleven studies on lung cancer and exercise reviewed indicated a protective effect. The most recent of the studies found moderate intensity activity, after lifestyle factors were taken into account, could reduce the risk of developing lung cancer by as much as 40 per cent.

The review also pointed to there being a possible small protective effect of activity on endometrial and prostate cancer.

Professor Fox says: "Looking at the evidence to date, to help reduce their risk of cancer, people should aim to engage in physical activity of at least moderate intensity, for approximately 30 minutes on three or more days a week throughout their lifetime."

Researchers also concluded from 36 studies that physical activity could enhance the quality of life for cancer patients and survivors across a range of cancers including leukaemia, breast, bowel and prostate cancer.

Study co-ordinator Clare Stevinson, also from the University of Bristol, says: " Cancer treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy have various negative side-effects such as loss of physical function, fatigue, nausea, depression and anxiety. Exercise has been shown to enhance aerobic fitness and muscular strength as well as body composition, self-perceptions, and mood so could help improve a patient's quality of life.

"Although rest is commonly recommended for patients experiencing fatigue, a number of patient trials suggest that moderate exercise during and following cancer treatment is associated with less fatigue and increased energy."

She adds: "It's an area that needs more research in the UK. We will shortly be starting our own trial to find out whether exercise is a valuable and acceptable form of therapy for recovering cancer patients."

Speaking at the conference, Sir Paul will give his support to the ongoing work being carried out by scientists at the University of Bristol. He will also publicly thank the charity's thousands of supporters in the South West who have enabled Cancer Research UK to fund the study and will host a lunch reception for local volunteers after the press conference.

Sir Paul Nurse says: "Cancer Research UK is delighted to be funding this work which concentrates on two very important areas for the charity; prevention of cancer and improvement in patients' quality of life.

He adds: "It is credit to our supporters who have worked hard to raise funds to enable innovative work like this to be carried out."

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Copyright: 2002 The University of Bristol, UK
Updated: Monday, 21-Oct-2002 17:32:44 BST

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