‘Any Exercise Is Better Than No Exercise’ to Potentially Improve Mental Health in Patients With Kidney Cancer

A kidney cancer diagnosis may negatively affect a patient’s mental health; however, exercise may help put them at ease.

Patients with kidney cancer who reported being physically active in the last month were less likely to report poor mental and physical health status compared to those who were not active, according to recent study results.

Dr. Daniel S. Roberson, lead author on the study and a urology resident at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, explained that not only can cancer only affect the organ or system where the disease is located, but also the mental health of a patient as well. Previous research has demonstrated that physical activity and exercise may mitigate side effects in patients with cancer, so he and his colleagues sought to discover if this held true for patients with kidney cancer as well.

“If we retrospectively looked at kidney cancer patients and we saw that these people had improved mental and physical health with exercise, we then use this study as sort of a launching point to… use the results of this to counsel our patients, as we take care of them through their diagnosis and treatment and survivorship,” he said in an interview with CURE®. “But looking forward, we (can) maybe design interventions, talk about programs with cancer centers and institutions to potentially help patients with kidney cancer diagnoses and mitigate some of the challenges with physical and mental health that a cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship (come with).”

The study — which was presented at the Society of Urologic Oncology 22nd Annual Meeting — included 576 patients and survivors of kidney cancer. Among them, 217 (37.7%) patients reported they did not participate in physical activity or exercise in the past 30 days and 358 (62.3%) reported that they did.

Those who were physically active were significantly less likely to report worse mental health and physical health status compared to those who were not active.

Roberson explained that there are many hypotheses explaining why exercise might improve mental health. For example, exercise may help release endorphins (also known as happiness hormones). However, there is not definite answer at this time based on these data.

“There's certainly more exploration that can happen in terms of that, but for whatever reason, we know that (physical activity) does improve (the mental health of) people, and I think that's the important thing for these patients,” he added.

The exciting notion with these results is that exercise and physical activity is something patients with kidney cancer can control and use to improve their everyday quality of life, Roberson continued. But it is important for patients to take it slow when starting out. If a patient has not exercised in a while, they won’t be expected to run miles. Roberson said patients may want to start out by taking walks.

“I would say any exercise is better than no exercise,” Roberson concluded. “But starting slow, doing something and sticking to a regimen, and just building better habits will not only help (patients) through the diagnosis and treatment, but also through survivorship. And we know that with data now.”

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