Getting regularly scheduled, moderate physical activity can help extend the lives of people with colon cancer, according to a new study.
Exercise is even helpful for obese cancer patients, reducing inflammation and improving the bacterial communities of the gut's microbiome, the findings showed.
"Inflammation is a key process that drives colorectal cancer. We know a high BMI [body mass index] causes inflammation around the body," explained study co-author Cornelia Ulrich. She's executive director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City.
"Obesity is on the verge of becoming the No. 1 cause of cancer in the United States, surpassing smoking. More than 13 cancers are linked to obesity," Ulrich said in an institute news release. "It's important we understand that moderate exercise can help colorectal cancer patients reduce inflammation, improve their gut health, and live longer -- even if they are overweight or obese."
Researchers found these benefits for patients independent of their BMI.
The study was conducted as part of the ColoCare Study of newly diagnosed colon cancer patients. Researchers in Germany as well as Utah assessed stool samples of 179 patients with stages 1-4 colon cancer enrolled between October 2010 and March 2018.
They found that higher physical activity levels were associated with greater gut microbiome diversity, an indicator of a healthy gut.
The findings were published in the American Journal of Cancer Research.
"A patient who is active has a more diverse microbiome and lower abundances of colorectal cancer-promoting bacteria, and higher amounts of bacteria that protect against colorectal cancer," said co-author Caroline Himbert, a research fellow with Ulrich's group.
"Our study suggests that nobody needs to be an athlete to get the benefits," she said in the release. "It can be easy activities. Just staying active is very beneficial."
Researchers called the findings an important step in understanding the impact of a healthy gut on colon cancer outcomes.
The study can't prove that exercise will keep colon cancer at bay. But the researchers said future studies should assess different effect sizes by exercise type, intensity and body composition.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly.
Excluding skin cancers, colon cancer is the third-most common cancer in the United States. More than 106,000 new cases of colon cancer and nearly 45,000 cases of rectal cancer are found each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on colon cancer.
SOURCE: Huntsman Cancer Institute, news release, Nov. 14, 2022