Physical Activity: A Powerful Ally in Alleviating Cancer-Related Pain

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Dr. Jessica Nelson
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Physical Activity: A Powerful Ally in Alleviating Cancer-Related Pain

A new study published in the scientific journal, Cancer, has presented compelling evidence that physical activity can significantly reduce the severity of ongoing pain experienced by individuals who have survived cancer. This encouraging discovery adds to the growing body of research emphasizing the vital role of exercise in health and disease management, including cancer.

The Link between Exercise and Pain Management

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Melbourne, involved data from 51,439 adults without a history of cancer and 10,651 adults with a past cancer diagnosis. The results unveiled that higher levels of physical activity were associated with lower pain intensity in both groups. More remarkably, those with a history of cancer who exceeded physical activity guidelines were 16% less likely to report moderate-to-severe pain compared to those who did not meet these guidelines. Senior author Dr Erika Rees-Punia of the American Cancer Society underscores that physical activity could be a potent, non-pharmacologic option for reducing various types of pain, including that associated with cancer and its treatments.

Exercise-Induced Anticancer Immunity and the Role of Natural Killer Cells

Beyond pain management, physical activity also plays a significant role in boosting the body's natural defense against cancer. This is largely attributed to the activation and proliferation of natural killer cells, a type of white blood cell that serves as the body's first line of defense against cancer cells. Additionally, physical activity is linked to a reduction in cancer-related pain. The gene PDCD1, which regulates the body's immune response in the context of cancer, has also been linked to the benefits of physical activity.

The Impact of Aerobic Combined with Resistance Exercise

Research has also thrown light on the beneficial effects of combining aerobic and resistance exercise (CE) for breast cancer survivors. Such an exercise regimen not only significantly improves cardiorespiratory fitness levels and cardiometabolic health but also reduces body mass index (BMI) in breast cancer survivors, especially after active cancer treatment. However, the study underlines the importance of adherence to the exercise regimen for it to be effective. Supervised CE was found to be more beneficial, with a meta-analysis showing a significant increase in maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and a reduction in body weight and BMI in breast cancer survivors.

Physical Activity Behaviour Change and Barrier Identification

Physical activity behaviour change is a crucial component in the management of cancer-related pain. A study focusing on black prostate cancer survivors after radical prostatectomy used the Behaviour Change Wheel model and Theoretical Domains Framework to identify barriers and facilitators to physical activity. The study reiterated the importance of considering physical and psychological capabilities, opportunity, and motivation in designing interventions to increase physical activity.

Addressing Cancer-Related Fatigue with Exercise

Physical activity also plays a substantial role in managing cancer-related fatigue (CRF), a common side effect experienced by cancer patients. A systematic review and network meta-analysis found that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective measure for alleviating CRF, while relaxation exercises (RE) are the most effective for improving sleep quality. Chinese traditional exercises (CTE) were found to be the best measure for enhancing the quality of life, once again demonstrating the far-reaching benefits of physical activity in improving the health outcomes of cancer patients.

In conclusion, this growing body of research underlines the importance of incorporating physical activity into the routine of cancer survivors. It not only reduces the intensity of ongoing pain but also improves their overall quality of life by addressing key issues like fatigue, sleep quality, and mental well-being. Therefore, individuals who have survived cancer should be encouraged to adopt and maintain a physically active lifestyle as part of their post-cancer care regime.