Postsurgical Exercise May Improve Survival in Stage 3 Colon Cancer

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Patients with stage 3 colon cancer who reported physical activity after surgical resection may derive a survival benefit and may prolong disease recurrence.

An exercise regimen after surgery may improve survival in patients with stage 3 colon cancer, according to findings from a recent study.

In particular, patients with stage 3 colon cancer who were physically active after undergoing a resection (a surgery to remove a portion of the affected organ) experienced improvements in disease-free survival. This improvement was driven by a reduction in the recurrence rate within the first year of treatment.

“Postoperative physical activity may prevent, as opposed to delay, cancer recurrence in some patients with stage 3 colon cancer,” the researchers wrote in the study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Researchers analyzed data from 1,696 patients with surgically resected stage 3 colon cancer who reported their physical activity levels after undergoing chemotherapy. Patients were categorized as either physically active (comparable with 150 minutes per week of brisk walking) or physically inactive (performing less than what is recommended in the guidelines for cancer survivors).

Researchers conducted follow-up for a median of 5.9 years, during which they measured disease-free survival (the time from completing the first physical activity assessment to disease recurrence or death from any cause), time to cancer recurrence (the time from first assessment to when cancer returns) and overall survival (the time from assessment to all-cause death).

During follow-up, 457 patients had disease recurrence or died.

In both the physically active and physically inactive groups, the risk for disease recurrence (cancer that comes back after a time when cancer could not be detected) peaked between one and two years after surgery then declined gradually up to five years.

The recurrence risk in patients who were physically active never surpassed the risk in patients who were physically inactive throughout follow-up. This finding may suggest, according to the researchers, that physical activity may prevent, rather than delay, cancer recurrence in some patients.

During the first year after surgery, patients who were physically active had a statistically significant benefit regarding disease-free survival. A benefit for overall survival, which is the time when a patient with cancer is still alive, was observed in patients who were physically active during the first three years after surgery.

“Physical activity is safe for cancer survivors and recommended during chemotherapy,” the researchers wrote in the study. “Our analysis indicates that the magnitude of benefit from physical activity on cancer recurrence is larger in the early postoperative period and attenuates with time. This time course may be relevant to patients who seek to understand the optimal time to begin physical activity to reduce their cancer recurrence risk.”

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