Exercise may fortify immune system of cancer survivors against future cancers

Share this article:

When cancer survivors exercise for several weeks after they finish chemotherapy, their immune systems remodel themselves to become more effective, and they can potentially fend off future cancers. This preliminary study may help to explain why exercise significantly reduces the chance of secondary cancer in survivors or reduces the chances of cancer altogether in people who have never had the disease.

Laura Bilek, PT, PhD, of the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the study leader, explained that previous research had found positive associations between exercise and cancer. Exercise can reduce the risk of getting initial incidences of several different types of cancer, can often improve prognosis in cancer patients, and can reduce the risk of recurrence and secondary cancers in survivors of some types of cancer. The mechanism behind these phenomena was unknown.

This study investigated how exercise affects the immune system of cancer patients. T cells in the blood of 16 cancer survivors, all but one of whom had recently completed chemotherapy, were analyzed before and after a 12-week exercise program. After chemotherapy, the majority of T cells become senescent, which is a form that is less effective at combating disease than the naïve form, which is ready to fight cancer and infections. After the individualized, 12-week exercise program, the ratio of senescent to naïve T cells changed favorably in a majority of the participants. Most study subjects regained greater numbers of the naïve variety to T cells.

“What we're suggesting is that with exercise, you might be getting rid of T cells that aren't helpful and making room for T cells that might be helpful,” Bilek says. “There's a litany of positive benefits from exercise. If exercise indeed strengthens the immune system and potentially improves cancer surveillance, it's one more thing we should educate patients about as a reason they should schedule regular activity throughout their day and make it a priority in their lives.”

This research was presented at The Integrative Biology of Exercise IV meeting held October 10-13, 2012, in Westminster, Colorado.

Share this article:
You must be a registered member of ONA to post a comment.

Sign Up for Free e-newsletters

April Contest: Win a Pebble Watch

Start the contest today

Regimen and Drug Listings


Bone Cancer Regimens Drugs
Brain Cancer Regimens Drugs
Breast Cancer Regimens Drugs
Endocrine Cancer Regimens Drugs
Gastrointestinal Cancer Regimens Drugs
Genitourinary Cancer Regimens Drugs
Gynecologic Cancer Regimens Drugs
Head and Neck Cancer Regimens Drugs
Hematologic Cancer Regimens Drugs
Lung Cancer Regimens Drugs
Other Cancers Regimens
Rare Cancers Regimens
Skin Cancer Regimens Drugs

More in Web Exclusives

Some breast cancer tumors hijack epigenetic machinery to evade drugs

A breast cancer therapy that blocks estrogen synthesis to activate cancer-killing genes sometimes loses its effectiveness because the cancer takes over epigenetic mechanisms, according to researchers.

PET imaging before surgery reduces unnecessary lung surgery by half

New quantitative data suggests that 30% of the surgeries performed for non-small cell lung cancer patients in a community-wide clinical study were deemed unnecessary.

3D MRI predicts survival after chemotherapy for liver tumors

In a series of studies involving Americans with liver tumors, researchers used specialized three-dimensional MRI scans to precisely measure whether highly toxic chemotherapy is working.