Exercise Increases Survival Rate for Colon Cancer

Two Studies Show Exercise Improves Survival

Mature woman power walking
Mature woman power walking. Google Images/ML Harris/The Image Bank

Moderate-intensity exercise, such as a brisk walk, can significantly increase the survival rate of colon cancer patients. Researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston conducted two studies, both of which came to this conclusion. A half hour to an hour a day of physical activity could improve your survival after colon cancer treatment.

Stage 3 Colon Cancer Patients Have Higher Survival with Exercise

The first study looked at approximately 850 people with stage 3 colon cancer that hadn't spread to other organs (but had spread to local lymph nodes in some people).

All of the patients had undergone surgery and chemotherapy. When researchers compared the two-year survival rate of the most active people to the least active people, the results were striking. Colon cancer patients who exercised the most had a 55% higher survival rate than those who exercised the least.

Stage 1-3 Colorectal Cancer Patients Have Higher Survival with Exercise

The second study involved almost 600 women who'd undergone standard treatment for colorectal cancer. Treatments varied since some women had stage 1 cancer, some had stage 2, some had stage 3, and some had stage 3 colorectal cancer that had spread to the regional lymph nodes. None of the women had colorectal cancer that had spread to other organs.

When researchers compared the activity levels of the study participants, they found that women who increased their activity levels after being diagnosed with colorectal cancer had about a 50% higher survival rate than women who made no changes.

Strangely, women who were already physically active before being diagnosed with colorectal cancer didn't enjoy the 50% higher survival rate unless they exercised even more after treatment. For those of you thinking how uncool that is, take heart. The study also found that in general, women who exercised the most still had a 43% higher survival rate than those who exercised the least.

How Much Exercise is Needed to Improve Colon Cancer Survival?

The study participants reported the number of hours per week they participated in various types of physical activity. (Some examples include walking, jogging, taking the stairs, yoga, biking, and swimming.) Then, the researchers converted those activities into MET hours (metabolic-equivalent task hours). More vigorous exercise earns more MET hours. An slow stroll earns 2.3 MET per hour while a brisk walk earns 3.6 and jogging earn 7.0 MET per hour.

The first study found that women with 18 to 27 MET hours per week had 51% better survival than women with under 3 MET hours per week, and 55% for those with over 27 MET hours/week. The second study found that women with at least 18 MET hours/week fared better than women with fewer than three.

  • 18 MET hours is the equivalent of brisk walking for four to five hours per week (an hour a day several days per week), or jogging for two to three hours (a half hour a day for several days per week)..
  • 27 MET hours would be 7.5 hours of brisk walking per week or 4 hours of jogging.

Take-Home Message - Exercise is Worthwhile for Colon Cancer Survivors

One of the most frustrating things about life-threatening illnesses is having so little control over something that matters so much: life and quality of life.

Anything that provides an opportunity to take control is a welcome addition to a colorectal cancer survivor's arsenal.

More research is needed, especially since both of these studies were conducted by the same lead researcher. But exercise is free unless you choose to pay for it. So, why don't you go take a hike - and I mean that in the nicest way!

Related Research on Colon Cancer and Exercise

Get Started with Exercise


  1. Exercise Cuts Colon-Cancer Return. United Press International. 13 Jul. 2006. 21 Jul. 2006 [http://www.upi.com/ConsumerHealthDaily/view.php?StoryID=20060713-040051-3838r].
  2. Meyerhardt, Jeffrey and Heseltine, Denise. "Impact of Physical Activity on Cancer Recurrence and Survival in Patients With Stage III Colon Cancer: Findings From CALGB 89803." Journal of Clinical Oncology. 24.22 (Aug. 2006). 21 Jul. 2006.
  3. Meyerhardt, Jeffrey and Giovannucci, Edward. "Physical Activity and Survival After Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis." Journal of Clinical Oncology. 24.22 (Aug. 2006). 21 Jul. 2006.
  4. Osterweil, Neil. "Exercise Increases Survival After Colon Cancer Diagnosis." Medpage Today. 17 Jul. 2006. 21 Jul. 2006 [http://www.medpagetoday.com/Gastroenterology/ColonCancer/tb/3740].

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