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Researchers explore links between physical activity and prostate, pancreatic, breast and lung cancers

Rockville, Md. (November 9, 2020)—Cancer is the second leading cause of death around the world after heart disease. This week, researchers exploring the effects of exercise as a natural preventive tool and noninvasive treatment for cancer will present their work at the American Physiological Society (APS) Integrative Physiology of Exercise conference.

Exercise May Improve Effects of Radiation Therapy in Prostate Cancer
Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy, uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may be a primary treatment for prostate cancer in some people. Dryden Baumfalk, MS, from Kansas State University, along with the Behnke lab, studied the effect of both a single exercise session and chronic exercise training on the effectiveness of radiation therapy in a rat model of prostate cancer. They found that exercising animals showed improvements in aerobic capacity and an increase in radiosensitivity of tumors compared to sedentary rats. “Exercise [has] the potential to augment the tumor microenvironment favorably to enhance radiotherapy compared to sedentary counterparts while maintaining or improving any cancer-associated [reduction] in aerobic capacity,” Baumfalk said.

Exercise Slowed Tumor Growth in Mouse Model of Prostate Cancer
Kai Zou, PhD, and his doctoral student, Benjamin Kugler, MS, of the University of Massachusetts Boston, examined the link between physical activity and tumor growth in a mouse model. The research team found “voluntary exercise slows down tumor growth in an animal model of castration-resistant prostate cancer, a form of advanced prostate cancer,” Zou and Kugler wrote. In addition, tissue analysis suggests that “exercise inhibits several vital processes in tumor growth and progression,” they added.

Breast Cancer
The American Cancer Society estimates that 1 out of every 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Chemotherapy remains a first-line treatment for early- and advanced- stage breast cancer, but increases the risk of heart disease, in part by damaging the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels. In separate studies, Jared Dickinson, PhD, from Central Washington University, and Marie Mclaughlin, MSc, from Edinburgh Napier University in Scotland, explored the relationship between exercise, cardiorespiratory health and breast cancer.

Dickinson’s research team followed people with breast cancer who were treated with anthracycline-containing chemotherapy. “Our preliminary data suggest that strategic exercise initiated prior to, and continued during, anthracycline chemotherapy treatment of breast cancer may provide a promising therapeutic strategy to minimize the detrimental off-target effects of anthracycline chemotherapies and better preserve cardiorespiratory fitness and lean mass in breast cancer patients,” Dickinson said.

Mclaughlin’s lab studied human endothelial cells treated with FEC-T, a chemotherapy regimen that combines four drugs (5 fluorouracil, epirubicin, cyclophosphamide and docetaxel). They found that preconditioning the endothelial cells with serum (blood) from people who habitually exercise caused less cell death than samples that were treated with untrained serum (people who exercised less than 75 minutes per week). "Exercise preconditioning can provide protection against these detrimental effects in vitro," Mclaughlin explained.

Pancreatic Cancer with Moderate-pace Walking Shrunk Pancreatic Cancer Tumors and Increased Cancer-killing Cells, Small Study Shows
Emily LaVoy, PhD, of the University of Houston, and colleagues explored the effects of moderate-intensity exercise on a mouse model of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer can be a particularly dangerous form of cancer because it is often diagnosed in later stages and spreads quickly. Though the trial sample was small—thus warranting further study—the results were optimistic. “Just 75 minutes per week of treadmill exercise, performed in 15-minute bouts at an intensity similar to a brisk walk, significantly reduced tumor size over two weeks and increased CD8+T-cell [cancer-killing white blood cell] infiltration,” LaVoy wrote.

Lung Cancer with Compounds in Active Muscles May Help Slow Lung Cancer Growth
Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers in the U.S. and accounts for roughly 25% of all cancer deaths. Patrick Ryan, MS, from Texas A&M University, and his research team found that treating cultured lung cancer cells with blood collected from contracting muscles—muscles that were exercised—did not grow as much as untreated cells. “Muscles release signaling molecules when they contract, and these molecules can influence how other cells behave,” Ryan explained. “This is exciting both because it demonstrates a novel way that physical exercise helps keep us healthy and also will help us identify new cancer-fighting compounds,” he added.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: The APS Integrative Physiology of Exercise will be held November 9–13 on a virtual platform. To schedule an interview with the conference organizers or presenters, contact the APS Communications Office or call 301.634.7314. Find more research highlights in the APS Newsroom.

Physiology is a broad area of scientific inquiry that focuses on how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. The American Physiological Society connects a global, multidisciplinary community of more than 10,000 biomedical scientists and educators as part of its mission to advance scientific discovery, understand life and improve health. The Society drives collaboration and spotlights scientific discoveries through its 16 scholarly journals and programming that support researchers and educators in their work.

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