Exercise boosts chemo effectiveness

Exercise boosts chemo effectiveness

Exercise increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy by increasing the blood supply to tumours and damaging their defences; it may also bring benefits in reducing fat levels in tissues, a predictor of poor survival in colorectal cancer.

In 2015, University of Pennsylvania researchers (1) set out to study how exercise when having a chemotherapy for melanoma, called Doxorubicin (already known to cause heart damage), might further damage the heart muscles. Instead, to their surprise, exercise when combined with the drug actually made the drug more effective in killing off cancer cells, actually reducing the tumour size further.

In another 2015 study, this time by the National Cancer Institute, researchers found that mice taking significant exercise reduced breast cancer tumor growth and had an increase in cell death. Most importantly, blood vessel growth inside and outside of the tumours increased by 60 percent and the transport of oxygen to the tumor also improved in mice that exercised compared to those that did not.improving oxygenation.

But isn't increased oxygen to cancer tumours bad news?

No, definitely not.

Cancer tumours exist in a state of HYPOXIA - low oxygen. All their defensive system develop in this low oxygen environment - it is known to cause, not just resistance to cancer treatments, but more progression and more metastasis (2).

The National Cancer Institute has published multiple findings; for example, they found that the rate of tumor growth was significantly slower in mice treated with exercise plus chemotherapy compared to chemotherapy alone, or exercise alone.  In their latest study (3)  amongst women with high-risk breast cancer (more likely to spread) and taken at points shortly before their diagnosis, during chemotherapy, and after completion of treatment, women who engaged in regular physical activity before their cancer diagnosis and after treatment were less likely to have their cancer come back (recur) or to die compared with those who were inactive.

Dr. Rikki Cannioto of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center added, “Our data strongly suggest that the more consistently active patients were, the better they did,” 

Women with breast cancer who met the minimum physical activity guidelines both before diagnosis and at the 2-year follow-up (after treatment) had a 55% reduced chance of their cancer returning and a 68% reduced chance of death from any cause (not just breast cancer)

In patients who did not meet the guidelines before diagnosis but met them at the 2-year follow-up, the chance of recurrence or death was reduced by 46% and 43%, respectively, compared with those who did not meet the guidelines at both times. 

Exercise has also been found to increase survival in prostate cancer patients (4) and in colorectal cancer patients (5), to name but two more research studies from our Website! 

The interaction between chemotherapy and oxygenation has also been found for radiotherapy too by researchers at Kansas State.

Dr. Justin C. Brown, Director of the Cancer Metabolism Program at Pennington Biomedical Research Center is looking into the benefits of exercise with colon cancer patients, saying, “We think aerobic exercise will allow patients to be treated with optimal doses of chemotherapy, reduce the incidence of chemotherapy toxicities, and enable more people to be cured.” His research will also look into the benefits of myosteatosis, which occurs when fat infiltrates skeletal muscle and is linked to increased metastasis in CRC (6). He has received a 51million US$  grant over 5 years to do this and says, "A third of people with colon cancer develop myosteatosis. It predicts cancer recurrence and death in colon cancer. This study will establish exercise training as obligatory for delivering high-quality, evidence-based care to colon cancer survivors,”

The National Cancer Institute now sets guidelines for exercise, exactly as CANCERactive has suggested for the past decade or more.

Of course exercise produces other benefits for cancer patients, not least it increases the production of  a hormone called Endorphin which helps to neutralise stress, a driver of cancer as also recorded by the NCI (7). We have an article on the 10 key benefits of exercise with cancer; frankly, it acts like a drug!

Go to: How Hyperbaric Oxygen improves Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy success



  1. Penn research - exercise improves chemo effectiveness - https://penntoday.upenn.edu/2014-09-18/latest-news/exercise-improves-chemotherapy-treatment-penn-study-finds
  2. The role of hypoxia in cancer progression, angiogenesis, metastasis, and resistance to therapy; Hypoxia (Auckl).Barbara Muz et al; 2015; 3, 83–92. Published online 2015 Dec 11
  3. Physical Activity Before, During, and After Chemotherapy for High-Risk Breast Cancer: Relationships With Survival - Canniotto et al;  J Natl Cancer Inst; 2021 Jan 4;113(1):54-63.
  4. Exercise prolongs survival in Prostate cancer - https://www.canceractive.com/article/exercise-prolongs-life-of-prostate-cancer-patients
  5. Exercise prolongs survival in Colorectal cancer - https://www.canceractive.com/article/how-exercise%20helps%20you%20survive%20cancer
  6. Can exercise boost chemotherapy's success; improve outlook for colon cancer survivors?
  7. Mayo Clinic: Get moving to manage stres


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