Cancer and its treatment are often associated with a marked decline in patients’ physical abilities and quality of life. But researchers are reporting that exercise, both during and after treatment, that is combined with a healthy diet can dramatically improve such outcomes in people with prostate and breast cancer.
The findings bring new insights into how aerobic and resistance exercise influence the physical and mental health of patients following cancer treatment. They were recently presented in two separate studies at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) Research Conference, held Nov. 14–16 in Maryland.
“The cancer experience — from diagnosis through treatment — has persistent effects that can last for years,” Brian Focht, PhD, a study author and director of the Exercise and Behavioral Medicine Lab at Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, said in a press release. “As more and more people are successfully getting through cancer treatments, survivors are experiencing significant effects that meaningfully compromise their physical function and quality of life, along with heightening their risk of obesity and other chronic diseases.”
Cancer survivors are advised to be active. But, despite this recommendation, little is known about how exercise affects different cancer types or whether patients undergoing treatment also benefit.
“What we are seeing in our studies is there are clear benefits to cancer patients implementing an exercise program as soon as possible,” Focht said.
The prostate cancer study, in particular, was a pilot, randomized clinical trial (NCT02050906) designed to assess the effects of exercise and diet in recurrent or advanced prostate cancer patients undergoing androgen deprivation therapy (ADT).
Side effects of ADT treatment are associated with muscle loss, increased fat, and osteoporosis, and patients are at higher risk for diabetes and heart disease.
The study enrolled 32 patients, who were randomly assigned to a plant-based diet and a strength-training and aerobic exercise group, or to a control group receiving standard of care. Participants’ mobility, strength, and body composition were assessed at baseline, and again at eight and 12 weeks.
“At the end of three months, there was an astonishing level of improvement among the intervention group,” said Focht. “Functional ability increased dramatically and along with that, their quality of life — their satisfaction — also increased.”
Indeed, the researchers found that men eating healthier and exercising regularly were walking three to four times faster than those in the control group. These patients also showed marked changes in their body composition, losing on average 4.4 pounds and 1 percent of body fat, whereas patients in the control group gained 1 percent of body fat.
The study suggests that eating healthy and exercising “not only attenuated what we would see among men undergoing ADT it actually reversed it, with the caveat being this is a small scale study and needs to be replicated in a large trial,” Focht said.