New study on how exercise can help prevent cancer

Dr. Gabe Mirkin

A new study from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has revealed a potential mechanism through which vigorous exercise may help prevent cancer (Clin Cancer Research, September 27, 2023; 29(20)). Lynch syndrome is an inherited condition that affects more than one million North Americans and puts these men and women at an 80 percent chance of developing colon cancer at a very young age, and women at a 60 percent chance of developing endometrial cancer. Twenty-one people with Lynch syndrome were divided into two groups:
45 minutes of intense cycling three days a week for 12 months
no practice

Exercisers had significant increases in natural killer cells and CD8+ T cells in the blood and colon. These immune cells specifically attack and try to kill invading germs and cancer cells. Furthermore, their inflammatory markers such as prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) dropped significantly to show that the reaction that tries to kill the cancer cells went down, suggesting that the inflammatory reaction that tries to limit the spread of the cancer cells slowed down. The authors report that this is the first study to show a link between exercise and changes in immune biomarkers for cancer.

How exercise can help limit cancer growth
All normal cells are programmed to live only for a limited time and then die. For example, skin cells only live for 28 days and then die. This is healthy and is called apoptosis. Cancer means that the cells try to live forever and can become so numerous that they can invade and destroy normal tissues. For example, a woman does not die of breast cancer as long as the cancer remains in the breast. However, if breast cancer cells invade the liver or brain, they destroy the normal function of these essential organs and the person dies from liver or brain damage.

Everyone makes cancer cells every day, but your immune system recognizes that cancer cells are different from normal cells and works to kill these cancer cells the same way it works to kill invading germs. Many studies show that exercise helps your immune system recognize and kill cancer cells:
A review of 45 reports of epidemiologic studies with several million study participants found that compared with those with the lowest levels of physical activity, those with the highest levels of activity had significantly lower rates of bladder, breast, colon, endometrial, esophageal adenocarcinoma, kidney, and stomach cancer. (Med Sci Sports Exercise. Jun, 2019;51(6):12521261).
Another study of nearly 23,000 non-exercising people found that those who performed vigorous, intermittent physical activity for at least 4.5 minutes a day had a 32 percent reduced risk of cancer (JAMA Oncol2023;9(9):1255-1259).
A study of 25,241 people who did not exercise, but who moved vigorously at least three times a day for one to two minutes, had a 38 to 40 percent reduced risk of dying from all causes and cancer, as well as a nearly 50 percent reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. diseases (Natural medicine, 2022;28:2521-2529). This suggests that you may be able to help prevent cancer by climbing stairs, walking, carrying heavy grocery bags, mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, and so on.

My recommendations
A regular exercise program helps prevent certain cancers. If you don’t have the time or desire to be in an exercise program, at least you can move vigorously while walking, climbing the stairs, or going about your daily tasks. You should also follow aanti-inflammatory dietavoid smoke and alcohol and limit your exposure to toxic chemicals.

Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a villager. Learn more at

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