In a large, long-term study, men with good cardiovascular fitness in middle age were less likely to develop and die from colorectal and lung cancers. These results were presented at 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
Regular physical activity is known to have a broad range of health benefits, including a reduced risk of certain types of cancer. To further explore level of fitness in relation to subsequent cancer risk, researchers followed more than 17,000 men who had a cardiovascular fitness assessment at the Cooper Institute in Texas. The average age of the men at the time of the assessment was 50, and the men were then followed for roughly 20 years.
The fitness test involved walking on a treadmill with variable speed and elevation. Performance on the test was based on how long the men could walk.
Subsequent health outcomes were collected from Medicare data. The study focused primarily on lung, colorectal, and prostate cancers, which are the three most common cancers in men (other than skin cancer). During follow-up, there were 2,332 diagnoses of prostate cancer, 276 diagnoses of colorectal cancer, and 277 diagnoses of lung cancer.
- Compared with men who were the least fit, men who were the most fit were 68% less likely to develop lung cancer and 38% less likely to develop colorectal cancer. These analyses accounted for factors such as smoking and body mass index. Fitness did not appear to affect the likelihood of developing prostate cancer.
- Among the men who developed any of the three cancers, those who were fit in middle age were less likely to die from their cancer, and were also less likely to die from cardiovascular disease. Even a small increase in level of fitness provided a benefit.
- Low level of fitness was associated with an increased risk of cancer even among men who were not obese. This suggests that men can derive benefits from exercise regardless of their body weight.
The study builds upon previous studies of physical activity by demonstrating that cardiovascular fitness in middle age reduces a man’s risk of developing or dying from common cancers.
Reference: Lakoski SG, Barlow C, Gao A et al. Cardiorespiratory fitness and risk of cancer incidence and cause-specific mortality following a cancer diagnosis in men: The Cooper Longitudinal Study. Presented at the 49th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. May 31-June 4, 2013; Chicago, IL. Abstract 1520.
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