Exercise Reduces Neuropathy Caused by Chemotherapy

Study finds exercise may improve chronic inflammation and cognitive impairment in the treatment of cancer patients.

Cancer patients who have undergone chemotherapy can reduce neuropathy symptoms through exercise, according to a recent study.

The findings were presented and honored as a “Best of ASCO” selection this past weekend at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in Chicago. The study enrolled more than 300 cancer patients to compare neuropathic symptoms in non-exercisers to pain in patients who were part of a specialized walking routine with resistance-band training at home for 6 weeks.

The results of the study found that exercisers had significantly less symptoms of neuropathy, including burning or shooting pain, numbness, tingling, and a cold sensitivity. Furthermore, older patients appeared to benefit more from the exercise routine.

“Exercise is like a sledgehammer because it affects so many biological and psycho-social pathways at the same time--brain circuitry, inflammation, our social interactions--whereas drugs usually have a specific target,” said lead study author Ian Kleckner, PhD. “Our next study is being designed to find out how exercise works, how the body reacts to exercise during cancer treatment, and how exercise affects the brain.”

Exercise for Cancer Patients (EXCAP) is a specialized program developed by Karen Mustian, PhD, MPH, several years ago. In more recent years, EXCAP has been copyrighted and evaluated in clinical trials.

Last year, Mustian presented findings from a randomized, controlled study that enrolled 619 patients. The study showed that EXCAP reduced chronic inflammation and cognitive impairment in patients who received chemotherapy. The current study included a subset of patients from Mustian’s trial.

“Our program at the University of Rochester, which now includes more than a half-dozen researchers, is becoming a real powerhouse in exercise oncology,” Mustian said. “Twelve years ago when we started this work a lot of people said it was not safe for most cancer patients to exercise. Now we know it can be safe when done correctly, and that it has measurable benefits. But more exercise isn't always better for patients who are going through chemo--so it's important to continue our work and find a way to personalize exercise in a way that will help each individual. “