Exercise Supercharges the Power of Cancer Chemotherapy
Exercise is nature’s best medicine. It keeps us fit, suppresses weight gain, hones the effectiveness of the immune system, boosts feelings of energy and mood, and even helps us look better. None of this is news, of course. Love it or hate it, there’s no getting around the fact that we can all benefit from regular exercise.
But what about cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy? Oncologists have long recommended that their chemo patients engage in regular exercise, because of its obvious physical and psychological benefits.
But some chemotherapy drugs are essentially toxic to the heart. This includes some drugs commonly used to treat breast cancer. Doxorubicin is an example. Even if these drugs kill cancer, and give a patient a new lease on life, they may simultaneously damage the heart muscle itself, setting a patient up for serious heart disease down the road.
Some scientists wondered if exercise during doxorubicin therapy would protect the heart, while not diminishing the drug’s cancer-fighting effectiveness. Using a mouse model of serious skin cancer, they set some animals to exercising during treatment, while others remained sedentary. The results were intriguing. Although exercise did not appear to protect the heart, animals who received doxorubicin while also exercising experienced significantly smaller and fewer tumors than their sedentary peers.
Basically, the study showed that exercise boosts the effectiveness of chemotherapy. This demonstrates, once again, that many of the most powerful tools for healing are in our own hands.
K. Sturgeon, K. Schadler, G. Muthukumaran, D. Ding, A. Bajulaiye, N. J. Thomas, V. Ferrari, S. Ryeom, J. R. Libonati. Concomitant low-dose doxorubicin treatment and exercise. AJP: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 2014; 307 (6): R685 DOI: 10.1152/ajpregu.00082.2014