Scientists have found that people and mice with pancreatic cancer who are put on an exercise regimen are better able to fight off the disease (stock image)

Exercise can help beat cancer: Physical activity can boost the effect of drugs or chemo, study finds

According to a study, exercise can boost the effectiveness of cancer drugs and increase survival rates.

Scientists have discovered that proteins released by the body to help repair muscles worn down by exercise also attack cancer cells.

After proving their theory in mice, they analyzed data from a human trial of 75 patients with pancreatic cancer.

One group was asked to do one hour of strength training and 90 minutes of aerobic exercise a week before having surgery to remove their tumors.

Those who completed the six-week training program had a 50% higher overall five-year survival rate than those who did not.

Scientists have long touted the benefits of exercise in reducing the risk of developing cancer, but this study suggests it may also help people with the disease.

Scientists have found that people and mice with pancreatic cancer who are put on an exercise regimen are better able to fight off the disease (stock image)

Scientists have found that people and mice with pancreatic cancer who are put on an exercise regimen are better able to fight off the disease (stock image)

Researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York found that exercising for 30 minutes five times a week in mice with cancer reduced the rate of cancer formation by 50%.

Another test that saw mice running regularly on a treadmill for three weeks reduced tumor weight by 25%.

Adrenaline induction through exercise has been found to stimulate the body to produce more of a protein called interleukin-15.

This in turn increases the ability of CD8 T cells, an immune system cell, which attacks and kills pancreatic cancer cells.


Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the disease and around 95% of people who get it die from it.

Joan Crawford, Patrick Swayze and Luciano Pavarotti all died of pancreatic cancer.

It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in the UK – around 10,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in the UK, alongside around 55,000 in the US.


It is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas – a large gland in the digestive system.


Most cases (90%) concern people over 55 years of age.

About half of all new cases occur in people aged 75 or older.

One in 10 cases is attributed to genetics.

Other possible causes include age, smoking, and other health conditions, including diabetes.


There is no screening method for pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer usually has no symptoms in the early stages, when it would be easier to manage.

Affected people tend to start developing the telltale signs – jaundice and abdominal pain – around stage 3 or 4, when it has probably already spread to other organs.


The only effective treatment is removal of the pancreas.

This proves largely ineffective for those whose cancer has spread to other organs.

In these cases, palliative care is advised to relieve their pain at the end of life.

The researchers then analyzed the results of a clinical trial on humans in 2017.

These patients were asked to perform strengthening exercises for 30 minutes, which could involve resistance bands, weight training or yoga, twice a week.

They were also told to take a brisk walk for 30 minutes at least three times a week.

They followed the diet for six weeks before undergoing operations to remove their cancers.

Regular blood tests showed that patients who exercised had more CD8 T cells.

And by reviewing health records, the researchers found that these patients also had 50% higher overall survival rates after five years.

The NYU researchers said the results of their study showed for the first time how even small amounts of exercise can help treat pancreatic cancer.

They said it was essential for pancreatic cancer because it has such limited treatment options.

Scientists hope the discovery will eventually lead to better treatment for people with this disease which is often detected too late, leaving few options.

Dr Emma Kurz, an oncology expert and lead author of the study, said: “Our results show, for the first time, how aerobic exercise affects the immune microenvironment in pancreatic tumours.”

“The work revealed that activation of IL-15 signaling in pancreatic cancer could be an important therapeutic approach in the future.”

To further test the theory, the scientists also tested whether exercise could improve traditional cancer therapies in mice.

This immunotherapy alone has been shown to increase the production of cancer killer cells by 66%.

But the production of cancer killer cells increased by 175% when the mice followed an exercise regimen.

NYU Grossman professor Dafna Bar-Sagi, a biochemistry expert and another study author, said the results showed exercise’s potential for treating pancreatic cancer.

“The fact that even mild exercise can profoundly alter the environment of tumors points to the potential of this approach in treating patients with a devastating burden and few options,” she said.

The researchers said they now plan to organize another clinical trial exploring the impact of exercise on patients with pancreatic cancer.

They published their findings in the journal cancer cell.

Pancreatic cancer is extremely deadly in part because of its difficulty in detecting and treating it.

About 95% of people who get it die from it.

Around 9,000 Britons die of pancreatic cancer each year. The figure is around 50,000 in the United States.

The best chance of curing cancer is surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, but only 10% of people have this option because it is normally only detected when the tumor has already started to spread to other parts of the body.

NHS advice says adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week.

They should also do muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days a week.

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