Exercise slows growth of bowel cancer cells

LONDON — Exercise is synonymous with tons of health benefits, from improving your physique to a better mood just to name a couple. Now, new research finds that exercise also releases molecules including small proteins into the bloodstream that have the potential to slow the growth of bowel cancer cells.

Prior research had concluded that exercise helps lower one’s risk of developing bowel cancer. However, up until now that connection had largely been attributed to exercise’s ability to help people shed excess pounds and maintain a healthy body weight. This latest research indicates that exercise’s cancer fighting abilities are not completely dependent on body weight. According to the study authors, even if exercise doesn’t necessarily lead to weight loss, it appears to still offer some protection against cancer.

Researchers stress that these findings are preliminary. Still, a more informed understanding of how exercise combats cancer will hopefully lead to the creation of specialized exercise routines intended to stop cancer development. Similarly, this work may one day lead to the creation of drugs capable of re-creating exercise’s cancer-fighting effects. In the future exercise may become a standard aspect of bowel cancer screening programs as well.

“Following on from this research, we want to understand a few more things, including which specific molecules in the blood are responsible for reducing the growth of the bowel cancer cells, and whether exercise performed at a high-intensity has a more pronounced effect on bowel cancer cell growth than exercise performed at a moderate-intensity,” says lead study author Dr. Sam Orange in a media release.

Exercise may spark biological changes in our proteins

This research included 16 male participants. Researchers say each person was at high risk of developing bowel cancer. The men were all over the age of 50, overweight or obese, and did not exercise regularly.

The team took blood samples both before and after a 45-minute bout of moderate intensity indoor cycling. They then collected blood samples before and after a non-exercise control activity. All of this was done to ascertain if exercise sparks changes in the concentration of specific proteins in the blood.

Next, each blood sample containing the exercise proteins was exposed to bowel cancer cells in a lab setting. Once that was done, researchers observed subsequent cancer cell growth over the following two days.

Further research needs to focus on real-life cancer cells and tumors instead of within a lab. Cancerous tumors in humans are a bit more complex and hard to predict than cancer cells in a lab.

This research was presented at The Physiological Society’s Annual Conference Physiology 2021.

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