Exercise Increases Length of Survival Among Patients With Lethal Brain Cancer

Brain cancer patients who are able to exercise live longer than patients who are sedentary, according the Duke University researchers.The study results indicate that exercise may not only ease the symptoms of cancer patients, but it may also impact their disease progression and survival, said Lee Jones, PhD, senior author and an associate professor in the Duke Cancer Institute.

For the study, researchers followed 243 patients with advanced recurrent gliomas, a lethal brain cancer that typically results in a median life expectancy of six months or less.

The patients who reported participating in regular, brisk exercise, such as an energetic, half hour walk for five days a week, lived for about 22 months – significantly longer than the most sedentary patients who lived about 13 months.

Jose Cortes, a cancer patient who has lived with inoperable anaplastic astrocytoma for two years, has been an avid proponent of the power of exercise during his treatment.

“I exercised regularly prior to my illness and I wanted to stay as active as possible,” Cortes said in a press release. “But it was impossible for me to do things that I could do easily before. My first goals in physical therapy were to put on my shoes without tipping over and keep my equilibrium while walking and talking or walking and turning my head.”

Eventually, he was able to surpass his early goals and begin walking for 30 minutes a day.  In 2010, he joined a Zumba fitness-dance class at his gym.

“I wanted to be able to exercise because it makes me feel alive again,” Cortes said. Though he warned that exercise is no cure, he said being active helps with both physical and mental symptoms of cancer.

“Exercise is a very good way to overcome the side effects of your disease,” he said. “You can feel more positive about your life even if you are in a terminal state. The most important thing is to just do it at your own pace and do your best.”

Jones said a major goal of his research is to find out why exercise may lead to improvements in survival following a cancer diagnosis.

“Discovering these mechanisms could provide new insights into cancer progression,” Lee said. “It could also lead to novel studies where exercise is combined with certain cancer therapies to see if both interventions together are more effective at inhibiting cancer recurrence or progression, not just minimizing the adverse side effects of the cancer therapies.”

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.