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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 01/ 6/2011

Exercise may extend life after prostate cancer diagnosis

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

Men diagnosed with prostate cancer often have a number of treatment options ranging from watchful waiting to surgery. But new research suggests they have another, readily accessible and totally noninvasive weapon in their arsenal: physical activity.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that men who engaged in various levels of physical activity during the years after their diagnosis with prostate cancer enjoyed substantial reductions in overall mortality (that is, death from any cause). And those who engaged in modest amounts of vigorous activities such as biking, tennis, jogging or swimming for three or more hours a week substantially reduced their risk of dying specifically from prostate cancer.

In short, the study found that those who walked 90 minutes per week at a normal to very brisk pace had a 46-percent lower risk of dying of any cause compared with those who walked for shorter durations at an easy walking pace. Men who got three hours per week of vigorous activity had a 49-percent lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 61-percent lower risk of dying from prostate cancer compared with men who got less than 1 hour per week of vigorous activity. Men exercising vigorously before and after diagnosis had the lowest risk.

The findings were culled from data collected over 18 years from more than 51,000 male physicians participating in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, launched in 1986 with followups every two years. From that data pool, researchers identified 2,705 cases of prostate cancer and 548 deaths, 112 (20 percent) of them resulting in death from that cancer. Researchers made adjustments to account for the effect of advanced disease on the ability to engage in physical activity and for the effect of physical activity that preceded diagnosis.

While prostate cancer is the most common cancers among American males (), it is also one of the least likely to kill them, with a 10-year survival rate of 93 percent.

The study's authors suggest a number of means by which physical activity might influence cancer survival, from modulating insulin activity and inflammation to altering the immune system's behavior. They write that more research is required to pin down the precise mechanism of action.

Obviously nobody's suggesting that physical activity is a cancer cure. But this research, particularly when viewed along with earlier studies linking exercise to better outcomes for patients with colon and breast cancer, is grounds for hope that people with prostate cancer may be able to, er, take steps to keep themselves alive and kicking.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | January 6, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Cancer, Men's health, Nutrition and Fitness, prostate cancer  
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