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Can Exercise Reduce Prostate Cancer Treatment Side Effects?

Medically reviewed by Steven N. Gange, MDSusan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 28, 2023

Prostate cancer is a form of cancer that develops in the prostate gland. It is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths for men in the U.S. About 1 in 9 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. According to a 2020 study, men undergoing androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) for prostate cancer can prevent side effects with exercise.


What does the prostate actually do?


The main job of the prostate and seminal vesicles is to make the fluid that bathes semen. During ejaculation, sperm is made in the testicles, then moves to the urethra. At the same time, fluid from the prostate and the seminal vesicles also moves into the urethra. This mixture of semen and fluid from the prostate and seminal vesicles forms the ejaculate that passes through the urethra and out of the penis.


The benefits of exercise


Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking or lifting weights, improves heart health and bone density and decreases the risk of diabetes and obesity. In addition, exercise can decrease blood sugar levels, which lowers insulin levels and inflammation. That’s important because there appears to be an association between insulin levels, inflammation, and prostate cancer risk.


Though any exercise is helpful, a big benefit of weight-bearing exercise is that it can reduce the side effects of common prostate cancer treatments, such as androgen deprivation therapy (ADT). The side effects of ADT can include muscle loss, an increase in fat mass, and the bone disease called osteoporosis. Risk for diabetes and heart disease also increases with ADT. In addition, exercise can reduce the stress, anxiety, and depression often experienced by men with prostate cancer.


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What is hormonal therapy or androgen deprivation therapy (ADT)?


Prostate cancer cells use the hormone testosterone to grow, similar to our need for food. Hormone therapy is also known as androgen deprivation therapy (ADT). It uses drugs to block or lower testosterone and other male sex hormones that fuel prostate cancer. ADT essentially starves prostate cancer cells of testosterone. ADT is used to slow cancer growth in prostate cancers that are advanced or have come back after initial local aggressive therapy. It is also used for a short time during and after radiation therapy. 


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Recent study to support the benefits of exercise for men undergoing ADT


Men undergoing androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) for their advanced prostate cancer can avoid possible side effects with short-term exercise, suggests a study published in January 2020 in BJU International. These side effects often occur within three months after treatment begins. In the study, researchers recruited 50 men with prostate cancer who began ADT. Half did two supervised exercise sessions per week for three months. The hour-long workouts included both aerobic and resistance exercises. The group then continued the workouts on their own for another three months.


After the initial three months, the men in the exercise group showed significant improvements in common ADT side effects (including weight gain, loss of muscle mass, lower cardio fitness, fatigue, and a drop in quality of life) compared with those in the control group, who did not participate in the exercise program. Most of the exercise benefits were visible at the six-month mark, too, including a lower risk of heart disease and a higher quality of life. 




Although the results of this recent study are significant and demonstrate a strong relationship between men undergoing prostate cancer treatment and a decreased display of related symptoms, further additional studies with a larger sample size will be necessary to strengthen and confirm these results. However, exercise comes with many health benefits and has even been indicated in the prevention of prostate cancer as well. So men (obviously in consultation with your medical practitioner), put on your running shoes, pick up your dumbbells, and hit the gym…it can only do you good.




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