Catching colorectal cancer early is the key to improving your chances for survival.

Catching colorectal cancer early is the key to improving your chances for survival. In fact, if discovered in its earliest stage – called stage 1 colorectal cancer – the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent. This means that after five years, more than 90 out of 100 people who started treatment for colorectal cancer in this early stage will still be alive.

However, sometimes it isn’t caught quite as early. When you have metastatic colorectal cancer, which means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as the lungs and the liver, survival rates are much lower. 

“Learning you have advanced colorectal cancer is devastating news, but there’s good cause for renewed hope,” said Duane Deivert, D.O., director of Gastroenterology for Geisinger Northeast. “We have known that regular exercise helps reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer. Now studies show that incorporating a small amount of moderate exercise into your treatment regimen boosts survival rates significantly.”

A little exercise goes a long way during treatment

The benefits of exercise for helping to maintain weight and reduce the risks for cardiovascular disease and diabetes are well known. A new study shows that it can also benefit patients diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer.

It doesn’t take a lot of exercise to make a difference. Walking on a treadmill for four hours per week improved survival rates for metastatic colon cancer rates by 20 percent. Adding another hour, for a total of five hours per week, resulted in improving survival rates by 25 percent.

Additionally, the research shows that the type of exercise needed to see improvement in survival rates was “non-vigorous.” The intensity of the exercise had no positive benefit for patients. Simply walking slowly on a treadmill for the prescribed amount of time was enough to provide a bump up in survival rates.

Exercising during cancer treatment is a challenge, especially if you’re dealing with the pain, fatigue and other complications of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The last thing on the minds of most cancer patients is heading to their local gym for a workout.

“Every patient’s treatment plan will be different and tailored to give them the best chance to return to a healthy life,” said Dr. Deivert. “In the same way, your doctor will make specific recommendations for exercise based on your capabilities at different stages of your treatment.”

Regular exercise may prevent cancer recurrence

The results of two additional studies showed that people who exercise regularly after colorectal cancer treatment improved their survival rates as well.

The two studies reviewed the exercise habits of patients with early to advanced stage colorectal cancers. In both studies, patients who exercised were 50 percent more likely to be alive and cancer-free in the six months after treatment than those who were inactive.

Again, the exercise did not need to be intense. The patients who experienced increased survival rates walked on a treadmill for six or more hours per week at a pace between two and 2.9 miles per hour.

“Exercise is an important part of life in general,” said Dr. Deivert. “And these studies show that it’s just as important in helping colorectal cancer patients live longer and healthier lives during and after treatment.”

Duane Deivert, D.O., is director of Gastroenterology for Geisinger Northeast. You can make an appointment with Dr. Deivert and the Geisinger gastroenterology team by calling 800-275-6401 or visiting Geisinger.org.

Woman exercising with purple dumbbells