US breakthrough looms for exercise oncology

An approach to cancer treatment based on physical activity, originally backed by Norway’s deceased female marathon star Grete Waitz, could be on the verge of acceptance in America.

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Text: Johannes Fjose Berg

A donation of NOK 5.4 million from the Kavli Trust is allowing the Active Against Cancer foundation to support research work which has so far given promising signals.

“Trials with mice have shown that physical exercise slows the growth of certain tumours as much as chemotherapy,” says Helle Aanesen, general manager of the foundation.

“Similarly, the combination of such activity, known as “exercise oncology”, and chemotherapy is more effective than medication alone.

“This could indicate that physical exercise not only improves the quality of life for cancer patients, but could also be genuinely beneficial for treatment.

“The funding from the Kavli Trust means that one of the world’s leading cancer research teams can continue the important work which has been begun, and hopefully establish exercise oncology as part of treatment outside Norway as well.”

Committed

Active Against Cancer was founded by Aanesen and Waitz in 2007, two years after the latter was diagnosed with the disease, and is committed to establishing physical activity as a therapy.

The result in Norway has been the creation of gyms with associated expertise, known as “breathing spaces”, at 13 of the hospitals treating cancer patients.

Aanesen says that the goal is to provide all Norwegian cancer hospitals with a facility for exercise oncology, which has been well received as a procedure in the country’s treatment community.

Experience with the existing breathing spaces prompted the foundation some time ago to contact New York’s renowned Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) to get a similar facility adopted there.

“The doctors thought the idea was great, but knew they wouldn’t get premises at the hospital until research could show that this was important for the patients,” explains Aanesen.

“We were accordingly urged to support their scientific work, and that’s just what we’re now getting the opportunity to do.”

The support from the Kavli Trust will specifically help to strengthen the field of exercise oncology under the leadership of Dr Lee Jones. His project aims to investigate which tumours are influenced when the patient engages in physical exercise. Dr Jones has already published widely in this field.

According to Aanesen, he does not intended to give up until enough has been learnt to be able to prescribe specific physical activity for patients in the same way as with medication.

Scholarship

She adds that, in addition to support for MSKCC, the Kavli Trust donation will be used to create a research scholarship for Norwegian scientists and scientific institutions.

Aanesen has great expectations for what all this can lead to: “My dream is that we can establish a centre of expertise for exercise oncology in Norway”.

The Kavli Trust, a charitable foundation which annually donates profits from the Kavli food group to research projects and other recipients, is also keen to see the outcome.

“Research into exercise oncology as a treatment has yielded positive signals so far,” says Inger Elise Iversen, general manager of the trust.

“It would be quite fantastic if we were able help to lay the basis for improved ways of treating cancer patients in the future.”