Does exercise influence cancer progression?

There is no definitive answer to this intriguing question, however, recent studies suggest that there is a beneficial effect of high-intensity interval training and regular exercise on the biochemical progression and survival with prostate cancer.

In the ERASE study that was published in August 2021, 52 men who had low to intermediate risk prostate cancer and had chosen to go on an active surveillance protocol were randomly selected to 2 groups. Participants were placed in a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or usual activity group and followed for 12 weeks.  The HIIT group completed supervised aerobic sessions on a treadmill three times weekly, at 85-95% maximum oxygen consumption.

Measured outcomes included: peak oxygen capacity, biochemical progression of prostate cancer by prostate specific antigen (PSA) analysis and rate of growth of an incubated cell culture of prostate cancer cells.

The results did demonstrate a significant increase in peak oxygen capacity in the HIIT group. In addition, PSA levels dropped by 1.1 ug/ml in the HIIT group when compared to the usual activity group. The prostate cancer cell line growth was inhibited in the HIIT group.

This short-term study is supportive of a study which was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in February 2011 which evaluated physical activity in 2,705 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. This was conducted over an 18-year period, from 1990 to 2008. This study found that men who had had prostate cancer and performed modest amount of physical activity such as biking, tennis, jogging or swimming for at least 3 hours per week had a 61% lower risk of prostate cancer mortality compared with men with less than 1 hour per week.

These studies highly support the importance of exercise in all aspect of health, not just weight control and cardiovascular fitness. The more that is learned about cancer development and growth makes it even clearer that the current costly paradigm, that is,  searching for a “cure for cancer” needs to be re-evaluated and more research should be focused in the prevention arena.


JAMA Oncol. 2021 Aug 19: doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2021.3067

Journal of Clinical Oncol. 2011 Feb 20;29(6) 726-732


Author: Henri P. Lanctin MD, FACS