Is Exercise as Good as Meds for Prostate Cancer?

Increasingly, doctors are looking at physical activity – exercise – the same way they look at medicines, and maybe we should, as well. The latest ailment to get the “Can Exercise Fix This?” scrutiny is prostate cancer.

The preliminary findings are extremely encouraging. This is more than just Exercise-as-Quality-of-Life-Enhancer.  Dr. Fred Saad, urologist-oncologist and researcher at the University of Montreal Hospital Research Center, believes that physical activity has a direct effect on prostate cancer that is at least as meaningful as drugs.

Together with Robert Newton, professor at the Edith Cowan University Exercise Medicine Research Institute in Australia, Dr. Saad heads up the first international study aiming to demonstrate that exercise literally extends the life of patients with metastatic prostate cancer. Dr. Saad will present an overview of this Phase 3 clinical trial at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting, which will take place in Chicago from June 3 to 7.

"Normally, patients at this stage have a life expectancy of two to three years. We want to reduce mortality by at least 22 percent, which represents about six months of longer survival. This is the equivalent benefit of a new drug. Exercise could therefore supplement available treatments, inexpensively," said Dr. Saad, who is also professor at the University of Montreal's Department of Surgery.

The hypothesis is that exercise has a direct impact on cancer progression in addition to helping patients better tolerate therapy. Ultimately, they will live longer. The results of this large study, which involves some one hundred researchers in Canada, the US, Australia, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the UK, will not be known for five years. Could the findings be extended to other types of cancer? It is too early to tell, but researchers are betting that exercise could well become the next anti-cancer therapy.

"We will study exercise as if it were a drug added to standard treatments. All patients will be treated within the latest scientific knowledge for this type of cancer. They will continue to follow their therapies and take their medications. But half of the patients will receive psychosocial support with general recommendations on physical exercise. The other half will also follow a high intensity exercise program," Dr. Saad explained.