Senior man on treadmill with therapist in fitness studio

Exercise oncology

Psychological distress

Exercise medicine has revolutionised cancer care over the past decade with researchers demonstrating truly powerful benefits.

For more than 15 years ECU’s Exercise Medicine Research Institute has been at the forefront of the science and clinical practice behind exercise oncology.

Now, an ECU research team led by Professor Daniel Galvão has published the most convincing evidence to date that exercise doesn’t just have physical benefits for people with cancer.

The study, published in the Nature journal Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases, is the first randomised control trial to examine the long-term effects of different exercise modalities on psychological distress of men with prostate cancer undergoing androgen deprivation therapy.

With up to one in four men experiencing anxiety either before or after prostate cancer treatment and up to one in five reporting depression, the need for holistic cancer care has never been greater.

According to Professor Galvão, exercise could be a simple way to improve symptoms of distress in men with prostate cancer.

"We've known about the physical benefits of exercise for cancer patients for some time, but our recent findings are the first to support the long-term positive effects on psychological distress of men with prostate cancer," Professor Galvão said.

"Whether you do aerobic exercise or resistance exercise it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s at moderate to high intensity, it’s beneficial for reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety."

The research is part of the $2.5 million Centre for Research Excellence in Prostate Cancer Survivorship, funded through a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grant. The Centre is a collaboration between ECU, Griffith University, Cancer Council Queensland, Cancer Council NSW, Monash University, University of Adelaide and the University of Queensland.

Fortifying primary treatments

ECU's Exercise Medicine Research Institute is also leading an investigation into the potential for exercise to improve the effectiveness of radiotherapy treatment in men with prostate cancer.

The study is examining the effects of exercise on blood flow and oxygen levels in tumours of the prostate. A recent paper of this work is published in Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases.

Radiotherapy is one of the main forms of treatment for prostate cancer. Around 40 per cent of prostate cancer patients aged over 65 receive radiotherapy as their primary treatment.

"Prostate tumours have many abnormal blood vessels that restrict the delivery of oxygen to parts of the tumour. This lack of oxygen can make cancer cells resistant to radiation damage and limits the effectiveness of the treatment," said Professor Galvão.

"We are examining if exercise can increase oxygen to tumours, which actually enhances the capacity of radiotherapy to destroy the cancer cells."

Ten Australian men are told every hour that they have prostate cancer.
Three will have clinically high distress and long-term, unmet psychological needs.
Eight will be overweight or obese.
Only two will be sufficiently physically active.

World leading research

ECU's Exercise Medicine Research Institute is also leading a global study across 10 countries to test if a highly specific exercise prescription can extend survival in men with advanced prostate cancer.

The $10 million trial, funded by Movember Foundation, is investigating how targeted exercise medicine affects cancer cell biology and suppresses tumour growth.

Western Australia's 2019 Scientist of the Year, ECU Professor Rob Newton explained that exercise oncology is revolutionising cancer treatment.

"There is emerging evidence that reaching a certain level of fitness can reduce the chance of death from cancer by as much as 60 per cent."

"We've made huge advances in exercise oncology over the past decade and this is now reflected in national and international statements in best practice cancer care," said Professor Newton.

The Exercise Medicine Research Institute is also heading up a NHMRC-funded clinical trial into the efficacy of a comprehensive exercise program in patients with early stage prostate cancer. The study is investigating how exercise can delay or prevent prostate cancer progression and patient illness from cancer treatments.

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