Can Exercise Boost Chemotherapy’s Effectiveness, Improve Outlook for Colon Cancer Survivors?

Two Studies Will Examine Impact on Cancer Treatment and Preventing a Muscle Condition Linked to Heart Disease, Death

August 11, 2022

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana – Two new federally funded studies will recruit more than 300 patients with colon cancer to determine whether aerobic exercise can make chemotherapy more tolerable and less toxic and prevent fat from invading muscle tissue, a predictor of cancer recurrence, heart disease, and death.

“More than half the patients with colon cancer treated with chemotherapy have to delay treatment or have a lower dose of treatment because the drugs have so many side effects. That’s known as chemotherapy toxicity,” said Justin C. Brown, PhD, Director, Cancer Metabolism Program at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. “We think aerobic exercise will allow patients to be treated with optimal doses of chemotherapy, reduce the incidence of chemotherapy toxicities, and enable more people to be cured.”

Dr. Brown expects the study’s findings will change the clinical practice guidelines that recognize exercise as an essential supportive treatment for chemotherapy.

“This study will establish exercise training as obligatory for delivering high-quality, evidence-based care to colon cancer survivors,” he said.

Dr. Brown is the lead investigator on both studies. The National Cancer Institute awarded him $5.1 million over five years to investigate aerobic exercise and chemotherapy and $3.1 million to examine aerobic exercise and myosteatosis, which occurs when fat infiltrates skeletal muscle.

“A third of people with colon cancer develop myosteatosis. It predicts cancer recurrence, heart disease, and death in colon cancer survivors,” Dr. Brown said. “Among older adults, myosteatosis also predicts poor muscle strength, the disability that frequently follows, and poor quality of life.”

Dr. Brown said exercise can remodel the composition of skeletal muscle, preventing fat from accumulating in the muscles we use to move. The study will also determine whether exercise improves skeletal muscle function and its ability to burn energy, which prevents insulin resistance and inflammation, which have been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The chemotherapy study will recruit more than 200 stage II-III colon cancer survivors from Baton Rouge, Boston and Oakland. The myosteatosis study will recruit more than 130 stage I-III colon cancer survivors from Louisiana.

“Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in the United States. It kills more than 150,000 U.S. residents a year. Cutting-edge research projects like these could change the way colon cancer is treated through precision exercise prescriptions that help more people survive this deadly disease and also improve their quality of life,” said Pennington Biomedical Executive Director John Kirwan, PhD.

The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.



About the Pennington Biomedical Research Center
The Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia.  The Center conducts basic, clinical, and population research, and is affiliated with Louisiana State University.  The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes over 450 employees within a network of 40 clinics and research laboratories, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Its scientists and physician/scientists are supported by research trainees, lab technicians, nurses, dietitians, and other support personnel.  Pennington Biomedical is located in state-of-the-art research facilities on a 222-acre campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  For more information, see