Men's Health: Prostate Cancer and Exercise

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian men and 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 75.

The prostate is a gland located immediately below the ladder, in front of the bowels. It produces fluid that protects and enriches sperm. Prostate cancer occurs when some of the cells in the prostate reproduce far more rapidly than normal, resulting in a tumour. If left untreated, prostate cancer cells may eventually spread from the prostate and invade distant parts of the body, particularly the lymph nodes and bones, producing secondary tumours in a process known as metastasis.

One of the most worrying aspects of the disease is that most prostate cancers develop without men experiencing any symptoms in the early stages.

What increases your risk of getting prostate cancer?

·      Age – the older a man, the more likely he is to be diagnosed with prostate cancer

·      Family history – a man with a father or brother who developed prostate cancer is twice as likely to develop the disease

·      Ethnicity – increased occurrence in black African and Afro-Caribbean males

What are the symptoms?

Not everyone experiences symptoms of prostate cancer. Many times, signs of prostate cancer are first detected by a doctor during a routine check-up.

Some men, however, will experience changes in urinary or sexual function that might indicate the presence of prostate cancer. These symptoms include:

  • A need to urinate frequently, especially at night

  • Difficulty starting urination or holding back urine

  • Weak or interrupted flow of urine

  • Painful or burning urination

  • Difficulty in having an erection

  • Painful ejaculation

  • Blood in urine or semen

  • Frequent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs

If you have any concerns or are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important that you contact your doctor.

What treatment options do I have if I am diagnosed with prostate cancer?

  • Active Surveillance

  • Prostatectomy

  • Radiotherapy

  • Hormone Therapy

  • Chemotherapy

The side effects of treatment

Depending on the treatment you undergo, you may experience some of the following:

  • Incontinence (involuntary leakage of urine)

  • Erectile dysfunction (difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection)

  • Weight gain due to hormone therapy

These side effects have different durations for different people.

Because a side effect of treatment may include erectile dysfunction, prostate cancer can have a serious impact on intimate relationships. As many people who have been through the journey will tell you, prostate cancer isn’t just a man’s disease, it’s a couple’s disease. Make sure you involve your partner as you think through the various treatment options.

The Role of Exercise in Prostate Cancer

Exercise can play a role both before surgery to improve recovery and outcomes, and after surgery to improve recovery and outcomes. Exercise can assist cancer survivors after surgery for rehabilitation, especially to treat incontinence. Radiation can cause fatigue among other side effects. Because prostate cancer cells are responsive to the hormone testosterone, a very common therapy is to stop the production or availability of testosterone in the body. This is called Androgen Suppression Therapy (AST). AST drastically reduces testosterone levels in the body and is highly effective for slowing prostate cancer growth however, AST also causes many side effects, including muscle and bone loss, weight gain, cognitive impairment and increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and other consequences of metabolic syndrome. Anxiety and depression are also more prevalent due to both the cancer diagnosis and treatment. Exercise has a well-established role as medicine to reduce all these side effects.

Exercise & Prevention of Prostate Cancer

Extensive research shows that regular exercise prevents some cancers and can reduce the incidence of cancer by 30-70%. The most effective research shows the beneficial impact of exercise and prostate cancer in more advanced disease and in older men. One study reported reduced prostate cancer incidence by 70% for advanced forms and in older men if performing more than 3 hours of vigorous exercise per week. The protective mechanisms are not well understood, but maintaining normal body weight, controlling stress and anxiety, and maintaining physical fitness all optimise the function of the immune system, which reduces the risk for all cancers.

Exercise for the management of prostate cancer

If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, exercise is an important complimentary therapy that can improve your quality of life. Exercise has been shown to reduce your symptoms, lessen the side effects of radiation and drug therapies as well as improving your psychological wellness and increasing your survival rate. Exercise is particularly important for preventing and managing other, often more life–threatening, chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. These conditions are increasingly recognised as side effects of cancer therapy, particularly AST. Additionally, many men with prostate cancer often experience reduced fitness, loss of muscle and bone mass and increased body fat. These effects are partly caused by reduced physical activity, poor nutrition and depression.

There is now very strong evidence to show that regular exercise after cancer diagnosis increases cancer survival rates by 50–60%, with the strongest effect for breast, colorectal and prostate cancers. A recent study has reported a 49% reduction in deaths from all causes in patients with prostate cancer who did more than three hours of weekly vigorous activity and 61% lower risk of prostate cancer death.

Men are generally older when they develop prostate cancer, and so muscle and bone loss and weight (fat) gain before diagnosis are common. These factors are considerably worsened by AST.

Where Exercise Physiologists come in

Exercise Physiologists are allied health professionals who specialise in prescribing exercise programs to address the specific issues facing the individual. At Balanced Bodies Lifestyle Clinic we have a greater understanding about the particular health concerns facing cancer survivors and how to design an exercise program with these in mind. Briefly, here are some of the ways through which we help cancer survivors:

·      Balance exercises – reduce falls and fracture risk because of AST

·      Resistance exercises – maintain or increase muscle mass lost & reducing falls and fracture risk

·      Aerobic exercises – maintain or improve aerobic endurance to be able to do day to day activities

·      A combination of all different types of exercise – reduce risk factors for chronic health conditions such as metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes

These effects, along with improved immune capacity resulting from exercise are the most likely mechanisms for increased survival rates in patients who remain, or become, sufficiently active.

Need some help to get started?

Our Exercise Physiologists at Balanced Bodies Lifestyle Clinic have extensive experience working with cancer survivors. We have worked with many people with different health concerns and are more than willing to help you in your exercise! If you would like to inquire about how we can help you, please contact us on 0419 287 631 or