Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, with an average of 14.8 deaths per 100,000 individuals in the country each year. In 2014, there were an estimated 1,317,247 people living with colon and rectum cancer in the United States. Globally, colon cancer is the third most common cancer.
A new study from Singapore has found that an individual’s overall cardiovascular fitness levels are linked to their risk of developing colon cancer. People in the study who had precancerous polyps in the colon were more likely to have a lower level of cardiorespiratory fitness than those who did not have colon polyps, according to the researchers. The lead author of the study is Dr. Vikneswaren Namasivayam, a gastroenterologist at Singapore General Hospital.
Researchers measured the cardiorespiratory fitness levels of the study’s participants instead of asking them how much they exercised, in part to eliminate errors resulting from unreliable self-reporting. Cardiorespiratory fitness differs from an individual’s overall fitness level in that it can be objectively measured—it refers to the overall ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to fuel the body and supply oxygen during sustained physical activity. It is influenced by how often a person exercises and what kind of exercise they engage in, but also an individual’s age, weight, genetics, and other factors.
In this study, measurements of cardiorespiratory fitness were based off of VO2 max, which looks at how much oxygen the body is able to use in a given time period to power its cells. The researchers measured VO2 max by having each participant ride a stationary bike to the point of exhaustion. The study found that the higher a participant’s VO2 max, the less likely they were to have precancerous polyps. The study involved 36 adults between the ages of 45 and 70. 20 of the participants had precancerous colon polyps; 16 had no polyps.
This is not the first time that exercise and fitness levels have been shown to have a correlation with colon cancer. A survey conducted by the Cleveland Clinic, a multispecialty academic hospital located in Cleveland, Ohio, showed that participants who exercised more, were non-smokers, and adhered to a healthy diet were less likely to have a history of colon polyps or colorectal cancer. Additionally, other studies, including one conducted by researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, have found that regular exercise can significantly reduce the chances of colon cancer returning in previously diagnosed patients—in some cases, it reduces the risk by up to 50%.
Further research is necessary to understand the depth of the relationship between colon cancer and exercise, and the biological mechanisms behind their connection still need to be explored. While the wait for these answers continues, individuals should engage in regular exercise—including aerobic exercise—to reduce their risk for colon cancer and to improve their overall health and well-being.
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