Pilot study suggests that T cells become more responsive in exercising cancer survivors weeks after chemo ends

October 11, 2012

Researchers may soon be able to add yet another item to the list of exercise's well-documented health benefits: A preliminary study suggests that when cancer survivors exercise for several weeks after they finish chemotherapy, their immune systems remodel themselves to become more effective, potentially fending off future incidences of cancer. The finding may help explain why exercise can significantly reduce the chances of secondary cancers in survivors or reduce the chances of cancer altogether in people who have never had the disease.

Laura Bilek, Graham Sharp, and Geoffrey Thiele, all of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Daniel Shackelford, Colin Quinn, and Carole Schneider, all of Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute, analyzed in the blood of before and after a 12-week . They found that a significant portion of these converted from a senescent form, which isn't as effective at combating disease, to a naïve form, ready to fight cancer and infections.

Their poster presentation entitled, "Effect of Exercise on T in Cancer Survivors," will be discussed at The of Exercise VI meeting being held October 10-13 at the Westin Westminster Hotel in Westminster, CO.

Exercise and Immunity

Study leader Laura Bilek explains that previous research had turned up a variety of positive associations between exercise and cancer—notably, that exercise can reduce the risk of getting initial incidences of several different types of cancers, can often improve prognosis in , and can reduce the risk of recurrence and secondary cancers survivors of some types of cancers. However, the mechanism behind these phenomena has been unknown.

Since other research has suggested that exercise can remodel the , making it more effective at fighting disease in general, Bilek and her colleagues decided to investigate how exercise affects the immune system of cancer patients. Working with a group of 16 cancer survivors, all but one of who recently finished chemotherapy cancer treatment, the researchers focused on T cells, a type of immune cell that attacks a variety of infectious agents as well as cancer cells. After chemotherapy, previous research had shown that the majority of T cells become senescent, with a decreased ability to fight infections and cancers. However, Bilek says, rebuilding the population of responsive (naïve) T cells is critical for regaining normal immune function and cancer-fighting ability.

The researchers first took blood samples from each of the volunteers to examine how many senescent and naïve T cells each had. Then, these study subjects were all enrolled into 12-week exercise programs at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Rehabilitation Institute. All programs were individualized for the study participants, incorporating elements of cardiovascular exercise, strength and endurance training, and exercises for flexibility, posture, and balance, with extra emphasis in areas where participants were weak.

After the 12-week program, the researchers drew a second blood sample from each volunteer and ran the same T cell analysis.

Another Reason to Work Out

Results showed that the ratio of senescent to naïve T cells changed favorably in the majority of participants, with most of the study subjects regaining greater numbers of the naïve variety.

"What we're suggesting is that with exercise, you might be getting rid of T cells that aren't helpful and making room for T cells that might be helpful," Bilek says.

She adds that this finding highlights the importance of exercise for all, including those with cancer and cancer survivors. These two populations might benefit especially from the heightened "cancer surveillance"—the ability of the immune system to seek out and destroy budding cancers—that this study suggests exercise brings, Bilek explains.

"There's a litany of positive benefits from exercise," Bilek says. "If indeed strengthens the immune system and potentially improves surveillance, it's one more thing we should educate patients about as a reason they should schedule regular activity throughout their day and make it a priority in their lives."

Explore further: Downloadable tool helps cancer survivors plan and monitor exercise

More information: bit.ly/OrMFtN

Related Stories

Downloadable tool helps cancer survivors plan and monitor exercise

January 4, 2012
Not only is overall quality of life higher in cancer survivors who exercise, but the rate of cancer recurrence is lower. Unfortunately, though most doctors recommend exercise, many patients fail to follow through.

Physical activity linked to reduced mortality in breast and colon cancer patients

May 8, 2012
Physical activity is associated with reduced breast and colon cancer mortality, but there is insufficient evidence on the association for other cancer types, according to a study published May 8 in the Journal of the National ...

Exercise can help cancer patients, but few oncologists suggest it

August 28, 2012
Numerous studies have shown the powerful effect that exercise can have on cancer care and recovery. For patients who have gone through breast or colon cancer treatment, regular exercise has been found to reduce recurrence ...

Exercise may improve quality of life during and after cancer

August 14, 2012
Exercise may improve quality of life for people with cancer, according to Cochrane researchers. In two separate Cochrane systematic reviews, the authors gathered together evidence showing that activities such as walking and ...

Exploring exercise benefits for breast cancer patients

August 28, 2012
Researchers in Edmonton and Calgary want to recruit 1,500 breast cancer patients over the next decade to find out how exercise and fitness affects cancer survival and recovery.

Recommended for you

Poliovirus therapy induces immune responses against cancer

September 20, 2017
An investigational therapy using modified poliovirus to attack cancer tumors appears to unleash the body's own capacity to fight malignancies by activating an inflammation process that counter's the ability of cancer cells ...

Scientists restore tumor-fighting structure to mutated breast cancer proteins

September 20, 2017
Scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute have successfully determined the full architecture of the breast cancer susceptibility protein (BRCA1) for the first time. This three-dimensional information provides ...

Brain cancer growth halted by absence of protein, study finds

September 20, 2017
The growth of certain aggressive brain tumors can be halted by cutting off their access to a signaling molecule produced by the brain's nerve cells, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School ...

New clinical trial explores combining immunotherapy and radiation for sarcoma patients

September 20, 2017
University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers are investigating a new approach to treat high-risk soft-tissue sarcomas by combining two immunotherapy drugs with radiation therapy to stimulate the immune system to ...

Researchers identify new target, develop new drug for cancer therapies

September 20, 2017
Opening up a new pathway to fight cancer, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found a way to target an enzyme that is crucial to tumor growth while also blocking the mechanism that has made past attempts to ...

Targeted antibiotic use may help cure chronic myeloid leukaemia

September 19, 2017
The antibiotic tigecycline, when used in combination with current treatment, may hold the key to eradicating chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) cells, according to new research.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.