Exercise Tied to Lower Mortality Risk Across Cancer Types

Megan Brooks

September 08, 2023


Regular exercise can significantly reduce a cancer survivor's risk of dying from cancer or other causes, a large analysis finds.


  • Following a cancer diagnosis, the impact of exercise on all cause and cause-specific mortality among survivors, and whether the benefit of exercise differs by cancer site, remains unclear.

  • To investigate, researchers leveraged data from 11,480 cancer survivors in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian cancer screening trial.

  • Postdiagnosis exercise levels were quantified via a questionnaire. The primary outcome was all-cause mortality; secondary endpoints were deaths from cancer and other causes.

  • Cox models estimated cause-specific hazard ratios (HRs) for all-cause mortality as well as cancer and noncancer mortality based on whether survivors met or did not meet exercise guidelines.

  • Meeting national exercise guidelines meant moderate-intensity exercise 4 or more days per week with sessions lasting, on average, 30 minutes or longer; and/or strenuous-intensity exercise 2 or more days per week with sessions lasting, on average, 20 minutes or longer.


  • Overall, 62% of participants were deemed non-exercisers (no exercise or exercise below guidelines) and 38% were classified as exercisers (meeting or exceeding guidelines). After a median follow-up of 16 years from diagnosis, researchers documented 4665 deaths — 1940 from cancer and 2725 from other causes.

  • Exercise at recommended levels was associated with "near-universal" all-cause mortality benefit for most cancers represented, including prostate, breast, endometrial, renal, and head and neck cancers.

  • In multivariate analysis, compared with non-exercisers, exercisers had a 25% reduced risk of all-cause mortality (HR, 0.75), with the benefit apparent within 5 years and persisting for at least 20 years after diagnosis.

  • Exercise was associated with a 21% reduction in cancer mortality and a 28% reduction in mortality from other causes, with more exercise demonstrating a greater benefit on cancer-specific mortality risk.


Overall, "our findings show exercise is a holistic strategy that may complement contemporary management approaches to further reduce cancer mortality (in select sites) while simultaneously lowering risk of death from other competing causes, which combine to improve all-cause mortality," the authors conclude. "This benefit was observed within a few years after diagnosis and sustained for at least 20 years."


The study, led by Jessica Lavery, MS, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, was published online August 31 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.


Exercise habits were self-reported at one timepoint, not measured more objectively over time using wearable devices. The population studied was predominantly non-Hispanic White. The researchers could not determine whether exercise habits reflected lower disease and/or treatment-related toxicities as opposed to direct exercise-induced effects or better adherence to a healthy lifestyle.


Support for the study was provided by AKTIV Against Cancer and grants from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Disclosures for the study authors are available with the original article.

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