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Science Shows How Exercise Might Help in Prostate Cancer

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Jan. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Vigorous exercise causes changes in some 180 prostate genes among men with early stage prostate cancer, a new study suggests.

Included are genes known to suppress tumor growth and repair DNA, which might mean that exercise could prevent or delay progression of the disease, the researchers said.

"There are many reasons to exercise," June Chan, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, and urology at the University of California, San Francisco, said during a Tuesday press conference. "Here's yet another great reason to exercise and it may offer a prostate cancer-specific benefit."

For the study, Chan's team compared prostate genes from 70 men with low-risk prostate cancer to normal prostate genes from 70 men.

The cancer patients in the study were undergoing "active surveillance" -- also known as "watchful waiting" -- rather than active treatment.

The men answered questions about how much and what type of exercise they did.

Chan's group found 184 genes that were differently expressed in men who did activities such as jogging, tennis or swimming for at least three hours a week, compared with genes in men who did less exercise.

Genes more highly expressed in men who did vigorous exercise included well-known tumor-suppressor genes associated with breast cancer, BRCA1 and BRCA2, the researchers found.

In addition, these men also had increased expression of genes involved in DNA repair, they noted.

The researchers hope to confirm their findings in a larger group of men who are undergoing active surveillance, and also among men who have experienced a recurrence of their cancer.

There are limitations to this study, Chan said. Most important, the study was small and so the results could be by chance, she said.

"If confirmed, the results suggest that vigorous physical activity might offer protection against prostate cancer progression," Chan said.

Exercise has also been found to have benefits for breast and colon cancer, the researchers noted.

The results of the new study are slated for presentation Friday at a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in San Francisco.

Because this research is being presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Dr. Anthony D'Amico, chief of radiation oncology, and a prostate cancer expert from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said that "this is an interesting, hypothesis-generating study that will require further testing and perhaps opens doors to exercise as part of future prostate cancer treatment, but it's too soon to tell."

In two studies last year, Chan's group found links between vigorous activity, such as brisk walking, and a lowered risk of prostate cancer progression and death.

In one study, which appeared in the February 2011 Journal of Clinical Oncology, men with prostate cancer who participated in three or more hours a week of vigorous activity had about a 50 percent lower risk of death from all illnesses, and a 60 percent lower risk of death from prostate cancer, compared to men who participated in less than one hour per week of vigorous physical activity, Chan said.

In the other study, published in the May 2011 issue of Cancer Research, men who walked three miles per hour or faster had about half the risk of prostate cancer progression of men who walked at two miles per hour or less, she said.

"These studies suggested that some form of cardiopulmonary exercise might offer specific benefits for prostate cancer," Chan said. "However, the molecular mechanisms by which physical activity exerts this effect on prostate cancer remains unknown."

More information

To learn about prostate cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

SOURCES: Anthony D'Amico, M.D., Ph.D., chief, radiation oncology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston; Jan. 31, 2012, press conference with: June Chan, Sc.D., associate professor, epidemiology, and biostatistics and urology, Steven and Christine Burd-Safeway Distinguished Professor, University of California, San Francisco; Jan. 31, 2012, Genitourinary Cancers Symposium of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, San Francisco

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