Purpose: Physically active individuals have a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer but the influence of exercise on cancer survival is unknown.
Patients and methods: By a prospective, observational study of 573 women with stage I to III colorectal cancer, we studied colorectal cancer-specific and overall mortality according to predefined physical activity categories before and after diagnosis and by change in activity after diagnosis. To minimize bias by occult recurrences, we excluded women who died within 6 months of their postdiagnosis physical activity assessment.
Results: Increasing levels of exercise after diagnosis of nonmetastatic colorectal cancer reduced cancer-specific mortality (P for trend = .008) and overall mortality (P for trend = .003). Compared with women who engaged in less than 3 metabolic equivalent task [MET] -hours per week of physical activity, those engaging in at least 18 MET-hours per week had an adjusted hazard ratio for colorectal cancer-specific mortality of 0.39 (95% CI, 0.18 to 0.82) and an adjusted hazard ratio for overall mortality of 0.43 (95% CI, 0.25 to 0.74). These results remained unchanged even after excluding women who died within 12 and 24 months of activity assessment. Prediagnosis physical activity was not predictive of mortality. Women who increased their activity (when comparing prediagnosis to postdiagnosis values) had a hazard ratio of 0.48 (95% CI, 0.24 to 0.97) for colorectal cancer deaths and a hazard ratio of 0.51 (95% CI, 0.30 to 0.85) for any-cause death, compared with those with no change in activity.
Conclusion: Recreational physical activity after the diagnosis of stages I to III colorectal cancer may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer-specific and overall mortality.