Sedentary Lifestyle Drastically Increases Risk of Dying from Cancer

April 18 2018. PSA Rising /Roswell Park, Buffalo, N.Y/.  Researchers at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center have found that cancer patients who were physically active both before and after treatment were 40% more likely to survive than those who were physically inactive. This was true for many different disease types, including prostate, breast, colon, ovarian, bladder, endometrial, esophageal and skin cancer.

The associations between habitual inactivity and cancer mortality remained consistently strong regardless of the patient’s sex, tumor stage, smoking status or body-mass index (BMI).

The 40% higher probable survival rate in physically active patients  is “remarkable,” the Roswell teams says. Another striking observation was that previously inactive patients who began exercising after their diagnosis increased their odds of survival by nearly 30%.

Dr. Rikki Cannioto PhD, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Patients participating in as few as one to two sessions of regular, weekly exercise experienced similar survival advantages as those who exercised more frequently, the researchers found. “In other words, when it comes to exercise, something is better than nothing but regular, weekly exercise seems to really make a difference,” says says lead author Rikki Cannioto, PhD, EdD, MS.  

“In fact, patients who were physically active three or four days a week experienced an even greater benefit than those who exercised daily, and patients who had only one or two days of regular activity per week did nearly as well. This is particularly encouraging, as cancer patients and survivors can be overwhelmed by current physical activity recommendations.”

Previously, a growing body of evidence has shown that a physically active lifestyle reduces the risk of many diseases, including cancer, but the effects of a sedentary lifestyle are less well studied.

Given the prevalence of physical inactivity in the general population and among cancer patients, who often face unique exercise challenges due to their disease and its treatment, the research team examined the association between habitual physical inactivity and outcomes in 5,807 cancer patients enrolled in the Data Bank and BioRepository (DBBR) at Roswell Park between 2003 and 2016. The DBBR is a shared resource at Roswell Park directed by Christine Ambrosone, PhD, Senior Vice President of Population Sciences and Chair of Cancer Prevention & Control.

The investigators looked at patterns of physical activity over time, during a period spanning the decade before the cancer was diagnosed and continuing for up to one year after diagnosis. Cancer patients who engaged in regular, moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity (such as walking, running, aerobics or other cardiovascular exercise) both before and after their diagnosis were considered habitually active, whereas those who did not exercise regularly were considered habitually inactive.

“These findings have important implications for cancer patients, clinicians and researchers, because they suggest that a cancer diagnosis could serve as an impetus for healthy lifestyle changes that can result in a significant survival advantage for cancer patients and survivors,” says Dr. Ambrosone, who is senior author on the work.

Take home message

  • This large study analyzed physical activity patterns of cancer patients over time
  • Patients who were habitually inactive were more likely to die of cancer
  • Those who engaged in regular physical activity were more likely to survive

Dr. Cannito and her team presented their research findings on April 18 at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2018 in Chicago, Ill.

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in Upstate New York. Learn more at, or contact us at 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or

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