Exercise: A Growing Role in Lung Cancer Prevention, Treatment, and Survival

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Regular exercise can help patients with cancer deal with issues related to weight gain during treatment.
Regular exercise can help patients with cancer deal with issues related to weight gain during treatment.

There is strong evidence that increased physical activity lowers the risk for several cancers, including colon cancer and breast cancer, and further that physical activity is beneficial for improving quality of life and delaying cancer recurrence or progression.1

A recent review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine indicated that regular exercise might also improve outcomes while patients are undergoing cancer treatment.2 The research suggested, for example, that regular exercise before surgery for lung cancer halved the complication rate thereafter.

“Overall survival for patients with cancer has increased around 20% in the last 10 to 20 years,” Daniel Steffens, PhD, of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, Australia, told Cancer Therapy Advisor. “Yet the rate of post-operative complications is still high. The literature shows that a high level of physical activity at pre-op is associated with better post-operative surgical outcomes.”

The recent review evaluated 17 articles involving 806 patients with 6 cancer types, including lung cancer. According to Dr Steffens, most of the preoperative exercises investigated in the included trials incorporated both aerobic (eg, walking) and respiratory muscle training exercises (eg, breathing exercises), which were performed for 1 to 2 weeks preoperatively.

“The frequency of the exercises varied from 3 times a week to 3 sessions daily,” Dr Steffens said. “Trials that performed a larger number of sessions per week reported a larger effect size, suggesting a dose-response relationship.”

Dr Steffens and colleagues found moderate-quality evidence that preoperative exercise significantly reduced both postoperative complication rates (relative risk, 0.52; 95% CI, 0.36-0.74) and length of hospital stay (mean difference, -2.86 days) in patients undergoing lung resection compared with controls.

“So far, the evidence is only for lung cancer, due to the amount of trials in this population (6 trials), compared with 1 or 2 small trials in other populations: colon (1 trial), colorectal liver metastases (1 trial), esophageal (2 trials), oral (1 trial) and prostate cancer (2 trials),” Dr Steffens explained.

Although the role of exercise in the treatment of and recovery from cancer is most established in breast cancer, an increasing number of trials are exploring exercise regimens in lung cancer.

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