Scientists have found that people and mice with pancreatic cancer who receive an exercise regimen are better able to fight the disease (stock image)

Exercise can help beat cancer: Physical activity can boost the effect of drugs or chemo, study finds

Exercise may boost the effectiveness of cancer drugs and increase survival, a study suggests.

Scientists found that proteins released by the body to help repair muscles worn out by exercise also attack cancer cells.

After proving their theory in mice, they analyzed data from a human trial of 75 patients with pancreatic cancer.

One group was asked to do an hour of strength training and 90 minutes of aerobic exercise a week before undergoing surgery to remove their tumors.

Those who followed the six-week training program had a five-year overall survival rate that was 50 percent higher than those who did not follow the regimen.

Scientists have long touted the benefits of exercise in terms of reducing people’s risk of developing cancer, but this study suggests it could also help people who suffer from the disease.

Scientists have found that people and mice with pancreatic cancer who receive an exercise regimen are better able to fight the disease (stock image)

Researchers at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, in New York, found that exercising for 30 minutes in mice with cancer five times a week reduced cancer formation by 50 percent.

Another test in which mice ran regularly on a treadmill for three weeks reduced tumor weight by 25 percent.

Eliciting adrenaline through exercise was found to stimulate the body to produce more of a protein called interleukin-15.

This, in turn, increases the ability of CD8 T cells, an immune system cell, which attacks and kills pancreatic cancer cells.

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the disease, and about 95 percent of people who get it die from it.

Joan Crawford, Patrick Swayze and Luciano Pavarotti all died of pancreatic cancer.

It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in the UK – around 10,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year, in addition to around 55,000 in the US.


It is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas – a large gland in the digestive system.


Most cases (90 percent) are in people over the age of 55.

About half of all new cases occur in people age 75 or older.

One in 10 cases is attributed to genetics.

Other possible causes include age, smoking and other health problems, including diabetes.


There is no screening method for pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer usually shows no symptoms in the early stages, when it would be more manageable.

Sufferers tend to develop the tell-tale signs — jaundice and abdominal pain — around stage 3 or 4, when it has likely already spread to other organs.


The only effective treatment is to remove the pancreas.

This proves largely ineffective for those whose cancer has spread to other organs.

In those cases, palliative care is advised to relieve the pain at the end of their life.

Researchers then analyzed the results of a 2017 human clinical trial.

These patients were asked to perform strengthening exercises for 30 minutes twice a week, including resistance bands, strength training, or yoga.

They were also told to take a brisk 30-minute walk at least three times a week.

They followed the regimen for six weeks before having surgery to remove their cancers.

Regular blood tests showed that patients who exercised had more CD8 T cells.

And looking at health records, the researchers found that these patients also had a 50 percent higher survival rate after five years.

The NYU researchers said the results of their study showed for the first time how even small amounts of exercise can help treat pancreatic cancer.

They said this was critical for pancreatic cancer because it has such limited treatment options.

The scientists hope the discovery will eventually lead to better treatment for people with this disease, which is often discovered too late and suffers with few options.

dr. Emma Kurz, an expert in oncology and lead author of the study, said: “Our findings show for the first time how aerobic exercise affects the immune microenvironment within pancreatic tumors.”

“The work has helped to reveal that activation of IL-15 signaling in pancreatic cancer could be an important treatment approach in the future.”

To further test the theory, the scientists also tested whether exercise could improve traditional cancer therapies on mice.

By itself, this immunotherapy was found to increase the production of cancer-killing cells by 66 percent.

But the production of cancer-killing cells increased by 175 percent when the mice were on an exercise regimen.

Professor Dafna Bar-Sagi of NYU Grossman, an expert in biochemistry, and another author of the study, said the results showed the potential exercise could have for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

“That even light exercise can profoundly alter the environment of tumors points to the potential of this approach in treating patients with a devastating burden of disease and few options,” she said.

The researchers said they now plan to host another clinical trial examining the impact of exercise on patients with pancreatic cancer.

They published their findings in the journal cancer cell

Pancreatic cancer is extremely deadly, in part due to the difficulty of detecting and treating it.

About 95 percent of people who get it die from it.

About 9,000 Britons die from pancreatic cancer every year. In the US, the figure stands at about 50,000.

The best chance of curing the cancer is surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, but only 10 percent of people have this option because it is normally not discovered until the tumor has already spread to other parts of the body.

The NHS advice states that adults should do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week.

They should also do muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days a week.

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