Breaking new ground in exercise and colorectal cancer treatment

Exercise can have significant benefits for cancer treatment and recovery, and new research is discovering the full extent of its impact for people with colorectal cancer.

The effects of exercise can reduce cancer risk, as well as improving the sense of wellbeing for patients during treatment and helping them to recover. It also reduces the negative effects of abdominal fat cells that promote cancer cell growth. When muscles contract, they release anti-inflammatory substances called myokines. The combination of anti-inflammatory effects of exercising muscle and reduced inflammation from abdominal fat could help explain why physical activity appears to be protective.

“We know exercise for cancer patients can help them to feel a lot better during their treatment and help them recover afterwards,” says A/Prof Haryana Dhillon. She is one of the Principal Investigators of the CHALLENGE trial, an international study endorsed by the AGITG investigating whether following an exercise program can reduce the risk of cancer returning.

The importance of physical activity in cancer treatment is being studied in the MONARCC trial, which is investigating the best treatment for elderly people with colorectal cancer. As part of the study, all participants will wear a FitBit to measure their activity levels at the beginning of their treatment, and again 16 weeks into treatment. This will be used to determine how the treatment is affecting their activity levels, and vice versa.

“People with cancer will often experience fatigue and extreme tiredness and a weariness in their bones,” says A/Prof Dhillon. “And you often don’t feel like exercising when you’re feeling like that. But something we do know is that exercise can actually help with this problem.”

The MONARCC trial is suitable for people with advanced colorectal cancer aged over 75 years or older, or people aged 70-74 who have an existing medical condition. Anyone interested in more information about the study can find out more at