Protective effects of physical activity in colon cancer and underlying mechanisms: A review of epidemiological and biological evidence

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2022 Feb;170:103578. doi: 10.1016/j.critrevonc.2022.103578. Epub 2022 Jan 7.


Numerous epidemiological studies indicate that physical activity has a protective effect against colon cancer development and progression. Further, the relevant biological mechanisms where physical activity or exercise may improve survival have also been initially examined. In this review, we provide an overview of the epidemiological evidence to date which comprises 16 cohort studies of the effects of physical activity on colon cancer outcomes including cancer recurrence, cancer-specific and overall survival. Moreover, we present four potential mechanisms involving shear pressure, systemic milieu alteration, extracellular vesicles, and immune function by which physical activity and exercise may favorably impact colon cancer. Research currently in progress will provide definitive evidence of survival benefits resulting from exercise and future work will help clarify the role of targeted exercise and the relevant mechanisms involved.

Keywords: Biological mechanism; Colon cancer; Exercise; Inflammation; Myokines; Physical activity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Colonic Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Colonic Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local*