Exercise Can Benefit Patients Undergoing Treatment for Metastatic Colon Cancer


Moderate physical activity may improve progression-free survival and reduce treatment-related adverse effects in patients undergoing chemotherapy for advanced colorectal cancer.

Moderate exercise was shown to benefit patients undergoing treatment for metastatic colon cancer, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Although previous studies have hinted at a benefit from exercise for patients with nonmetastatic colon cancer, there has been no research into its effect on colon cancer that has metastasized to other parts of the body.

For the study, 1218 patients completed a validated questionnaire within 1 month after therapy initiation that reported average physical activity over the previous 2 months. Based on their responses, the researchers quantified their physical activity in terms of metabolic equivalent task (MET)-hours per week. Vigorous activity was defined as any activity requiring 6 or more METs, such as running, biking, tennis, skiing, or lap swimming. Non-vigorous activities included walking, climbing stairs, or yoga.

According to the results, patients who engaged in more physical activity had an approximately 20% statistically significant improvement in profession-free survival (PFS) compared with those who did not exercise as much.

Compared with patients who engaged in less than 3 MET-hours per week of physical activity, those who engaged in 10 or more MET-hours per week had a 15% improvement in overall survival (OS). However, the researchers noted that the difference was not statistically significant.

“Physically active patients in our study also appeared to tolerate chemotherapy better,” lead author Brendan Guercio, MD, said in a press release. “Total physical activity equivalent to 30 or more minutes of moderate daily activity was associated with a 27% reduction in severe treatment-related toxicities.”

The data demonstrated that patients who engaged in 9 or more MET hours per week experienced fewer grade 3 or greater treatment-related adverse effects compared with those who engaged in less than 9 MET hours per week.

According to the authors, the findings are important because they underscore the importance of exercise for patients with not just nonmetastatic colon cancer, but with colon cancer that has metastasized as well. They noted that all patients in the study were being treated with chemotherapy and that the results do not suggest that exercise be substituted for any kind of standard therapy.


Guercio BJ, Zhang S, Ou FS, et al. Associations of physical activity with survival and progression in metastatic colorectal cancer: results from cancer and leukemia group B (Alliance)/SWOG 80405. Gastrointestinal Cancer. 2019. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1200/JCO.19.01019

Exercise associated with benefit to patients with advanced colorectal cancer [news release]. Dana Farber Cancer Institute. https://www.dana-farber.org/newsroom/news-releases/2019/exercise-associated-with-benefit-to-patients-with-advanced-colorectal-cancer/. Accessed August 14, 2019.

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