Exercise could counteract deadly harms of cancer treatment

Exercise could be the key to counteracting potentially fatal heart damage caused by a common cancer treatment.

A Melbourne trial is investigating whether regular fitness training can improve the heart health of men who have prostate cancer, making the hormone therapy often needed for them to beat the disease less likely to cause serious damage.

Baker Institute researcher Ashley Bigaran said while hormone treatment greatly improved men's chances of survival, they could experience a wide range of side effects, including deadly heart disease.

"We theorise hormone treatment increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and that's our primary research aim and our hypothesis," Ms Bigaran said.

"What we hope to understand better … is whether using a targeted exercise program started at the same time as hormone treatment can reduce this risk."

Regular exercise could not only improve heart health but also reduce fatigue and help men manage any anxiety and depression related to their cancer diagnosis, Ms Bigaran said.

A Melbourne trial is investigating whether regular fitness training can improve the heart health of men who have prostate cancer.
A Melbourne trial is investigating whether regular fitness training can improve the heart health of men who have prostate cancer.

Participants in the EX-Heart clinical trial engaged in individually tailored, three-month fitness programs supervised by exercise physiologists who specialised in prostate cancer, she said.

The men were given a wide range of heart tests before treatment and screened at three and then 12 months afterwards.

Melbourne schoolteacher Bruce Ruthven, 64, said he had not expected to emerge from his prostate cancer treatment regimen fitter than when he went into it but, remarkably, that was the case.

Mr Ruthven said despite having undergone intensive cancer treatment for eight months from August 2019 to March this year, he was in better physical shape now than he had been since playing competition soccer when he was young. Joining the Baker Institute study was one of the best decisions he'd made, he said.

"When you get a diagnosis of prostate cancer you think 'oh my God, that's going to kill me' but I know now that it's the stuff around it that quite often gets you in the end, not the cancer itself," Mr Ruthven said.

He said that as a one-time sportsman he knew what it felt like to be in top physical shape but had let his fitness lapse over the years.

"Getting involved in this trial is something I really enjoyed and it just made sense to me that if I could get as fit as I could during hormone therapy and before starting chemotherapy, it was going to help me cope with it all better," he said.

The Baker Institute study is looking to recruit men over the age of 40 who are starting hormone treatment for the first time. To learn more go to https://baker.edu.au/research/clinical-trials/exheart-trial


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