Exercise cuts the risk of dying from cancer nearly in half

Published 26 May 2017

People can dramatically improve their chances of surviving cancer through regular exercise such as walking and lifting light weights, a new analysis of previous research has found.

Australian academics reviewed more than 100 studies and found the mortality rates among people with cancer who frequently exercise dropped between 28 and 44 per cent.

The chance of cancers coming back also slumped by over one-third, and chemotherapy side effects were milder for those suffering cancers of the breast, bowel and prostate.

Changes to treatment

The studies covered tens of thousands of cancer patients across the globe, and the subsequent findings have led Associate Professor Prue Cormie at the Australian Catholic University's Institute for Health and Ageing to call for more funding into exercise facilities.

The research was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, and Associate Professor Cormie told The Australian that a few fundamental changes could significantly improve cancer outcomes.

"By having qualified exercise specialists and dedicated exercise programs available for cancer patients in the community and hospital, we can reduce the impact a diagnosis has on the health and wellbeing of those affected by cancer, improve outcomes for patients and potentially reduce health system expenditure," she explained.

Cancer is one of the country's biggest killers, with Cancer Council Australia predicting there will be 150,000 new diagnoses of the disease a year by 2020. Fifty per cent of Australians who reach the age of 85 will suffer from cancer during their lifetime.

The federal government pledged $5.8 million to Cancer Australia in the latest budget to help support research and trials into childhood versions of the disease. Cancer is also classified as a critical illness for which people can claim benefits if they have the appropriate insurance.

Looking to the future

Chair of Cancer Council Australia's Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee Kathy Chapman said the new research is just one of a number of studies showing the vital link between exercise and better cancer outcomes.

"It's really been an emerging area over the last five to 10 years about the importance of exercise in terms of improving overall survival, but it also particularly helps with the quality of life that cancer patients and survivors can have."

She called for more research into the topic, claiming it was a "really important" development for the future.

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