The Benefits of Exercise for Cancer Patients and Survivors – Kirby Harley AEP

Cancer is the name given to a collection of related diseases, that is characterised by the uncontrolled division of the body’s cells, which then begin to spread into surrounding tissues. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them, they then either grow old or become damage and die, with new cells taking their place. Cancer develops when this orderly process breaks down and there is a mutation of the new cell. In general, cancer cells have more genetic changes, such as mutations in DNA, than normal cells. As cells become more and more abnormal and less specialised doesn’t have a distinct function unlike mature normal cells, these cells can divide without stopping and may form invasive growths called tumours. In addition, cancer cells are able to ignore signals that normally tell cells to stop dividing or that begin a process known as programmed cell death, or apoptosis, which the body uses to get rid of unneeded cells. Cancer cells influence the normal cells, molecules, and blood vessels that surround the tumour for ‘food’ i.e. nutrients — an area known as the microenvironment. Although the immune system normally removes damaged or abnormal cells from the body, some cancer cells are able to “hide” from the immune system.


The genetic changes that contribute to cancer tend to affect three main types of genes—DNA repair genes, proto-oncogenes, and tumour suppressor genes. DNA repair genes are cells that help fix damaged DNA. If mutations are present in these cells, addition mutations develop in other genes. Proto-oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes are involved in controlling normal cell growth and division. However, when these genes are altered in certain ways or are more active than normal, they may become cancer-causing genes (proto-oncogenes become oncogenes), allowing cells to grow and divide uncontrollably and survive when they should not. Together, these mutations may cause the cells to become cancerous.


There are three common forms of cancers, most of which form solid masses in the tissue of the body. The first type of cancer is that of the blood, such as leukaemia’s, which generally do not form solid tumour masses. Benign tumours are ones that do not spread into or invade nearby tissue. They are not cancerous, however can be large in size, therefore benign tumours of the brain can be life threatening. Once removed benign tumours rarely grow back. Cancerous tumours on the other hand are malignant, which involves the spread or invasion into nearby tissue. In addition, as these tumours grow, some cancer cells can break off and travel or metastasise to distant places in the body through the blood or the lymph system and form new tumours far from the original tumour.


Benefits of Exercise

  • Keep or improve your physical abilities – muscular strength and endurance (how well you can use your body to do things)
  • Improve balance, lower risk of falls and broken bones
  • Keep muscles from wasting due to inactivity
  • Lower the risk of heart disease
  • Lessen the risk of osteoporosis (weak bones that are more likely to break)
  • Improve blood flow to your legs and lower the risk of blood clots
  • Make you less dependent on others for help with normal activities of daily living
  • Improve your self-esteem
  • Lower the risk of being anxious and depressed
  • Lessen nausea
  • Improve your ability to keep social contacts
  • Lessen symptoms of tiredness (fatigue)
  • Help you control your weight
  • Improve your quality of life


Current cancer treatment (chemotherapy and radiation), although increasingly effective for improving survival are toxic in numerous ways and produce negative short and long term physiologic and or psychological effects, including pain, decreased cardiorespiratory fitness, cancer related fatigue, reduced quality of life (QOL) and suppressed immune function. There is a rapidly growing body of evidence reporting, acknowledging and saluting the benefits of exercise for cancer survivors in areas of psychological and quality of life (QOL) outcomes, cancers related fatigue, physical functioning, body weight and composition, muscle strength and endurance, immune function and cardiovascular fitness. It may reduce the risk of cancer recurrence, second primary cancers and other chronic diseases as well as prolong survival. This is thought to occur through the most commonly hypothesized pathways associated with physical activity and cancer prevention via an alteration in sex hormones, metabolic hormones, inflammation and adiposity, and immune function, however, is not yet fully understood. Exercise may also alleviate symptoms that interfere with the daily life of cancer patients and survivors such as lack of appetite, diarrhea, paraesthesia, constipation, physical fatigue, mental fatigue, treatment related fatigue, muscle pain, arthralgia and other pain, depression, anxiety and insomnia.


Here at Vision Health, we run several group classes for those with cancer, as well as those who have beat their diagnosis. If you think this is something for you, please don’t hesitate to book an initial consult with us. We would love to help you, in more ways than one.