29. March 2017

Exercising research in New York

Norwegian scientist Tormod Skogstad Nilsen has moved to New York to study the role of physical activity in cancer treatment, with backing from the Kavli Trust.

He is the first of three researchers to receive scholarships from the Active Against Cancer foundation to study “exercise oncology” at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre (MSKCC).

“It’s inspiring to work so closely with a specialist like Dr Lee Jones on this issue,” says Nilsen (on the right in the photograph). He is accompanied by his wife and children.

Funding for an extensive research project on exercise oncology and associated scholarships has been given to Active Against Cancer by the Kavli Trust.


Nilsen is affiliated with the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences (NIH) for work on a prostate cancer study, and responsible for the NIH’s Active Instructor course.

His time in America will give him valuable insights into the MSKCC’s research on the links between physical activity and cancer, and opportunities to implement new know-how in Norway.

A number of studies over the past two decades have indicated that exercise plays a role before and after a cancer diagnosis, and is now known to prevent several types of the disease.

In addition, research has shown that the side-effects often experienced from chemotherapy are easier to handle if the patient participates in tailored physical activity.

This also helps to act preventively on such impacts as cardiovascular disease and, in some cases, to prevent a recurrence of the cancer.

For physical exercise to affect the risk of selected cancers or their return, this activity must affect the tumours either directly or indirectly. Recent studies have identified mechanisms which make that possible.

But this does not mean that exercise will affect all tumour types, just as not every cancer is sensitive to the same medications.


Not much is known today about the characteristics of tumours which are influenced by exercise. The MSKCC project supported by Active Against Cancer and the Kavli Trust aims to identify these.

Properties of a cancer cell are largely determined by the way it utilises its genetic material. Analysing relationships between these genes and the patient’s physical condition can reveal more about cell properties in people at different levels of fitness.

Greater knowledge also be acquired about which types of cancer cells are influenced by the patient’s physical condition, and which are not.


The number of cancer patients in the USA is much bigger than in Norway, which quite simply provides opportunities to pursue research much more quickly.

Closeness to the exciting MSKCC project will bring new knowledge to Norway, with good results getting swiftly adopted in the “breathing space” gyms being set up by Active Against Cancer.

Including a Norwegian scientist in the US work is very significant, observes Nilsen. ”It’s like one of our footballers being able to train and develop with Ronaldo.”

Exercise recommendations are currently the same for everyone who has been treated for cancer. The current project will identify the effect of different activities on various diagnoses.

The ultimate goal is to acquire sufficient knowledge to be able to prescribe physical exercise.