If you want to know if physical exercise is related to the prevention and management of cancer, know first that cancer is a worldwide problem and imposes a great concern around the world. In 2018, the expected number of new cases globally was 18.1 million. For most cancer patients, the disease and related treatments have a Severe adverse effect on physical, mental and social health with the most common symptoms being fatigue, pain, nausea, reduced functional capacity, depression, anxiety, and social disconnection.
In addition, cancer patients are also more vulnerable to other chronic comorbidities, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and sarcopenia.. Therefore, strategies that can reduce the risk of cancer and mitigate a wide range of health sequelae related to the disease and its treatments are of clinical importance.
What is cancer?
Cancer is characterized by the disordered and rapid proliferation of human cells that have managed to escape from the central mechanisms of endogenous control, and can be called pathogenic organisms, because they unbalance the correct functioning of the body. Cancer cells have a huge need for energy sources, so cancer is a highly catabolic disease. When left unchecked, the cancer continues to expand, and can spread to other areas of the body.
Physical exercise in the prevention and management of cancer
Regular exercise is associated with a reduced risk of many types of cancers and recurrence of cancers, as well as improvement of treatment-related symptoms. However, physical inactivity or an insufficient level of physical activity, regardless of cancer diagnosis, remains a major concern.
It is well established that sports practice reduces the risk of all-cause mortality and improves life expectancy in several populations. In the context of cancer, individuals repeatedly exposed to sports also decreased their risk of cancer and cancer-related death, although there is disparity in their training levels and physical condition.
An early observational study suggested that regular participation in sports led to a lower cancer incidence rate in middle-aged and older men.. Similarly, Adult women active in lifelong sports have a reduced incidence of breast cancer (>50% reduction) compared to non-active women of the same age.
And in athletes?
In amateur athletes with higher training volume and intensity, a lower risk of cancer was also observed. An initial large-scale survey of 5,398 former college athletes and non-athletes indicated that long-term participation in organized sports activities was associated with a reduced risk not only of breast cancer, but also gynecological cancers; while a 15-year follow-up of these individuals also indicated that previous experience in college sports conferred greater protection against breast cancer.
Recently, a retrospective study in French athletes demonstrated that longer life expectancy in elite athletes from various sports was mainly attributed to lower cancer risk.
The numerous positive adaptations in physical performance, functional capacity, cardiovascular fitness and body composition, in addition to the beneficial psychological effects observed in cancer patients, only justify the importance of sports practice in the short and long term, and therefore, whenever possible, should be suggested and emphasized by the professional.
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Hausman DM. What Is Cancer?. Perspect Biol Med. 2019;62(4):778-784.
Luo H, Galvao DA, Newton RU, Fairman CM, Taaffe DR. Sport Medicine in the Prevention and Management of Cancer. Integr Cancer Ther. 2019;18:1534735419894063. doi:10.1177/1534735419894063