Alan Holman didn't stop exercising when told he had cancer, and he's glad of it, now that U.K. researchers say moderate exercise may improve chemotherapy outcomes in esophageal cancer patients.
Holman, 70, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in December 2016, shortly after retiring from his job as a facilities manager at a shopping mall in Britain. Like many patients, he underwent chemotherapy and then surgery.
But Holman also enrolled in an exercise regimen as part of a small study.
"Once I started the chemotherapy, it was tiring, but doing an hour with the trainer, you come out feeling better," said Holman, adding it "got me through the chemotherapy."
The study included 40 patients with cancer of the esophagus, sometimes called the gullet or food pipe. Some patients received weekly guided exercise sessions before and during their chemotherapy treatment, and instructions on how to continue the exercise program at home.
When compared with patients of similar age and cancer status who didn't take part in an exercise program, those in the exercise program had a better response to chemotherapy. Their tumors shrank more and they were more likely to have their cancer status downgraded, meaning it was less advanced.
"This is a small study, but a promising one, as it shows how a moderate exercise program could help to improve the success of chemotherapy treatment," said study leader Andrew Davies, a consultant in upper gastrointestinal surgery at Guy's and St. Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.
Moderate exercise was also shown to reduce some of the negative effects of chemotherapy on fitness, meaning it could help make chemotherapy an option for more patients, according to the study authors.
The report was published Feb. 2 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
"We want to confirm this effect in further studies, but conceivably this may benefit patients with other types of cancer and be a cost-effective way to improve the effectiveness of treatment," Davies said in a hospital news release.
Chemotherapy is a standard treatment for esophageal and many other cancers, but can have negative side effects such as fatigue, sickness and risk of infection.
Five years later, Holman remains active. "I'm not one for sitting indoors all day. When I was working I had a very active job, and was walking a lot every day," he said. "Now I try to get to the gym once a week, and get out for a walk at least once every day."
There's more on esophageal cancer at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
SOURCE: Guy's and St. Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, news release, Feb. 2, 2022