Could Exercise Work as a Prostate Cancer Treatment?

Wednesday, 06 January 2016

Cancer Research UK has launched a new study that could form the first step towards the introduction of exercise training as an NHS treatment for prostate cancer.

The study, known as the PANTERA study, is led by Sheffield Hallam University and focuses on 50 men who have prostate cancer, but whose disease has not spread to other parts of the body.

50 percent of the participants will conduct two and a half hours of weekly aerobic exercise for a year. They will initially be supported by a qualified trainer and will continue with free access to local gyms. The other 50 percent will be provided with information about the benefits of exercise for patients with cancer. They will not have any supervised sessions.

Prostate cancer that hasn’t spread is often treated with radiotherapy or surgery, however these treatments can have side-effects so many patients choose active surveillance as an alternative and this involves monitoring the cancer. All participants in the PANTERA study are already on active surveillance and will continue to be so. They will also be monitored closely as part of the study itself.

It is expected that the study will lead to a full-scale trial to investigate the potential benefits of combining exercise and active surveillance for patients with prostate cancer, if the men in the study can successfully carry out their exercise routine for a year. The trial is believed to be the world’s first of its kind and would look into testing whether exercise can help to keep prostate cancer from spreading around the body. It has the potential to be a viable NHS treatment.

Sheffield Hallam University’s principal research fellow, Dr Liam Bourke, is the study’s leader. He said evidence has suggested that men who remain physically active after being diagnosed with prostate cancer have higher rates of survival than those who are not active. He said it is currently unclear how this is possible, but it could be due to exercise affecting the way certain genes regulate DNA repair and cancer cell growth.

Dr Bourke said that Sheffield’s clinical academic team have spent eight years working hard to develop the intervention being tested in the study. If they can show that it is feasible, it could be a leap forward for patients with cancer.

In March 2014, 68 year old David Curtis from Sheffield was diagnosed with prostate cancer. One of his New Year’s resolutions is to exercise more and he has been exercising as part of the PANTERA study for a number of weeks. He said up until now he hasn’t been one to go to the gym, despite always being active. Now he goes twice a week and does a lot of walking. Since the study began, he has lost weight and his PSA level has dropped, which is a positive indicator. Mr Curtis feels privileged to be taking part in the study and is happy to contribute to research that could be useful to other people.

In Britain, prostate cancer is the most common cancer for men and around 43,400 new cases are diagnosed every year, causing about 10,800 deaths. Several types of prostate cancer grow at a slow rate and are unlikely to spread, whereas others can be more aggressive.