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Health & Exercise Forum

Exercise and Cancer Prevention: Race for the Cure Part 2 of 2

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Sep 13, 2010

Dr. Mackarey's Health & Exercise ForumGuest Columnist: Janet Caputo, PT, OCS

In support of the Race for the Cure last weekend, this two part series on exercise and cancer is intended to raise the level of awareness and attempt to empower people to make their illness an opportunity for wellness.

How would you try to prevent cancer? Avoid the following; smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco, drinking alcohol, eating preservatives and artificial sweeteners. While there are many things to avoid, there are also things to DO! There is a growing body of scientific evidence that physical activity and exercise can be used as a primary prevention against cancer.

If you watch television, listen to the radio, or read magazines, you will be bombarded with advertisements about products to quit smoking and to supplement your diet with “antioxidants” in an attempt to prevent cancer. I don’t know about you but I have yet to hear anyone advertise about how EXERCISE can prevent cancer even though research studies supporting this claim are valid and credible. Remember, these products cost money while EXERCISE is free! You don’t have to join a gym or hire a trainer. Taking a walk, riding a bike, using the stairs, cleaning the house and mowing your lawn are examples of physical activity and exercise that would not cost you a cent!

Physical activity and exercise has been shown to have the greatest prevention against colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among American men and women combined. Physical activity reduced the risk of colorectal cancer up to 70% for both men and women. Individuals that exercised for longer durations and at higher intensities were shown to experience the greatest reduction in their risk for colorectal cancer. This positive effect was demonstrated with both occupational and recreational activities and did not appear to be influenced by other colorectal cancer risk factors such as diet and obesity.

Research has been able to establish a similar relationship between physical activity and breast cancer. Approximately one out of every eight women in the United States can develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer up to 40%. These studies revealed the most significant reduction in breast cancer among the women who exercised for longer durations and at higher intensities.

Prostate cancer, the second most common cause of male death, will affect one in every five American males. However, the risk of prostate cancer can be reduced up to 30% through physical activity and exercise. The higher levels of physical activity were associated with the greatest reductions in prostate cancer. However, most of these studies were conducted on men older than sixty because it is at this age that most men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. Researchers hypothesize that exercise may have its greatest protective effect against prostate cancer when initiated early in a man’s life.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Cancers of the uterus and cervix will accounts for 7,400 deaths annually in the United States. Exercise and physical activity can reduce the risk of lung and uterine/cervical cancer up to 40% and 90%, respectively. Exercise duration and intensity may affect risk reduction.

Various biological mechanisms including hormonal changes have been suggested as possible reasons for the reduction in cancer through exercise. However, current research has demonstrated a strong link between cancer and stress. Stress, which reduces our body’s natural defense mechanisms, increases our susceptibility to disease including cancer. Exercise and physical activity has been shown to not only reduce stress, anxiety, and depression but also to elevate mood. These psychological improvements may be the reason why exercise and physical activity are effective in preventing cancer.

Obesity as a risk factor for cancer has been demonstrated in the scientific literature for years. Individuals that are more physically active are usually not overweight. Exercise increases basal metabolic rate, expends calories, and burns fat to help control your weight and to help maintain a more normal lean body mass. Obesity can be prevented through physical activity and exercise.

What’s the message? GET MOVING! Performing 30 to 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activities on most days of the week is recommended to reduce your risk of cancer. Rate your physical exertion on scale from 0 (no exertion) to 10 (maximal exertion). To achieve an intensity of moderate to vigorous during your activity you should be able rate your level of exertion between 3 and 5.

If you missed it, read part 1 of this series, on how exercise can ease the effects of cancer treatment.

SOURCES: American Cancer Society; Friedenreich CM, Orenstein MR. Journal of Nutrition.

CONTRIBUTING AUTHOR: Janet Caputo, PT, OCS is clinical director of physical therapy at Mackarey & Mackarey Physical Therapy Consultants, LLC in downtown Scranton where she practices orthopedic and sports physical therapy. She is currently a Doctor of Physical Therapy student at the University of Scranton.

MEDICAL EXPERT REVIEWER: Christopher A. Peters MD, Oncologist, Radiation Oncologist, Northeast Regional Oncology Centers (NROC), Dunmore, PA. Dr. Peters is a clinical associate professor of medicine at the Commonwealth Medical College.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an affiliated faculty member at the University of  Scranton, PT Dept.