Exercise: the newest cancer fighter?

Scientists have found a new weapon in the war against cancer, but it’s not a new wonder drug. According to a study presented at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, exercise—even moderate activity such as walking—substantially raises survival rates for women with breast cancer.

The study, which showed that women who exercised after breast cancer cut their long-term risk of dying from it by one quarter to one half, comes as no surprise to experts in the field. “We have known for a long time that exercising regularly is one of the best ways to maintain long-term health,” says Dr. Harry Raftopoulos, author of Exercise for chemotherapy patients (Healthy Living Books, $14.95). “That’s true for everyone, not just cancer patients and cancer survivors. The evidence that exercise is indeed a cancer-fighting tool should come as more motivation for people to get on their feet!”

While exercise is an important prescription for anyone, Raftopoulos points out that it’s especially beneficial to those who have been diagnosed with cancer. “Studies on patients undergoing cancer treatment have shown that regular exercise improves physical function, self-esteem, and confidence, and can help to reduce the side effects from treatment. Also, just the act of exercising can help you feel like you have more control over your body and your life—an important issue for people who are living with the fears that come with a cancer diagnosis.”

Raftopoulos urges cancer patients to use exercise as a way to take charge of their health. “When undergoing treatment, people often say they feel too weak to start a big exercise program,” he explains. “But even light exercise, such as a walk around the block, can be beneficial. There are also many exercises that can be tailored to a cancer patient’s needs, many of which can be done while sitting or adapted to fit your abilities.”

His last piece of advice? Stick with it. “You should view exercise as medication,” he says. “If you exercise daily, over time, it will make you feel better.”

Harry Raftopoulos, M.D., is a leading oncologist and an assistant professor of medicine in the division of Medical Oncology as well as Director of Respiratory Oncology at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

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