Exercise may help activate immune system to fight prostate cancer

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  • Prostate cancer treatment can affect some physiological functions
  • The effect of exercise during prostate cancer treatment has not been widely studied 
  • However, a new study has found that exercise during treatment has no adverse effects on prostate cancer patients

It has been established that treatment for prostate cancer may affect a number of bodily functions, yet the effect of exercise on the immune response in such patients has not been thoroughly investigated.

Previous exercise guidelines for cancer patients were based on physiological responses in healthy patients, but it has recently been found that cancer patients have a different response to exercise.

A recent study published in Experimental Physiology set out to describe the nature of the natural killer (NK) cell response after acute exercise (a single bout of exercise) in prostate cancer survivors. 

Natural killer cells

Natural killer (NK) cells are of the same family as T cells and B cells and are categorised as lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell).

NK cells are known for cell-mediated, cytotoxic innate immunity – meaning that they act as the first line of defence when it comes to detecting and controlling the first stages of cancer.

Previous studies have shown that, in animal models, exercise triggered the immune system to send NK cells to areas where infection and tumours are present and in cancer patients, NK cells would invade the tumours, potentially slowing down growth. 

Mobilising the immune system

Researchers at the Victory University in Melbourne had 33 participants complete a cycling task in order to assess their maximal fitness. Eleven of the participants were cancer survivors, 14 were men with prostate cancer, and the other eight were healthy individuals acting as controls. 

The researchers then opted to use an exercise session of moderate intensity, and standardised the exercise according to each participant’s maximal fitness. This was done to ensure that each individual’s immune system was equally stimulated.

Blood samples were collected before exercise, immediately after and two hours later in order to assess immune function. Immune function was assessed again one day (24 hours) after the exercise.

Exercise gets thumbs up for prostate cancer patients

After 24 hours, it was found that NK cell levels had returned to resting levels. This means that exercise is, in fact, safe for prostate cancer survivors and patients and that it does not interfere with treatment. 

The researchers stated: “Consecutive training sessions can likely be used without adverse effects on the immune system during prostate cancer treatment.”

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