Exercise while Fighting Prostate Cancer
Exercising regularly while undergoing radiation therapy may help prevent fatigue in men with prostate cancer, according to a study in Cancer (2004;101:550–7). Although oncologists often recommend that men with prostate cancer rest if they become fatigued during the course of their treatment, the new study contradicts this advice and shows that more physical activity is necessary to maintain one’s energy level.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer found in men over age 50, with more than 200,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States. The cause of prostate cancer, like many other cancers, is unknown. Prostate cancer is generally slow growing and may not cause any symptoms until late in the disease. Symptoms include frequent or painful urination, dribbling after urination, sensation of incomplete emptying of the bladder, or blood in the urine. These symptoms are similar to those of a noncancerous condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), so men experiencing these symptoms should consult their physician for an accurate diagnosis.
In the new study, 65 men with early prostate cancer were randomly assigned to either not exercise at all or to participate in an exercise program consisting of 30 minutes of continuous walking at a specified target heart rate at least three times per week for the four weeks of their radiation treatment. All participants received 20 radiation treatments to the prostate during the four-week study period. A questionnaire to assess fatigue severity was administered initially and then after every fifth radiation treatment, as well as four weeks after the last treatment. Physical functioning was also measured before and after treatments by having the men walk at a specific pace until they either became exhausted or could no longer maintain the same pace.
Men in the exercise treatment group had no change in their energy level during the treatment period or four weeks after the last treatment. However, the men who did not exercise had a significant increase in fatigue during the radiation treatment. Although the nonexercise group gained most of their energy back following the radiation treatments, it did not return to pretreatment levels. Men who exercised were able to walk an average of 512 meters at the end of their radiation treatments, compared with only 468 meters in those who did not exercise.
Studies show that up to 80% of men receiving radiation therapy for prostate cancer will suffer from some degree of fatigue during their treatment. In some cases, this fatigue could become chronic and even debilitating. However, exercise as a treatment is rarely recommended by physicians to combat the effects of radiation therapy. The amount of exercise necessary to prevent radiation-induced fatigue is fairly nominal and the effects appear to last beyond the treatment period. The men included in the current study all had early prostate cancer, so it is not clear whether exercise would be beneficial for men with more advanced cancers. Nonetheless, the health benefits of exercise extend beyond cancer and include preventing other diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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