Department for Health

Researcher to investigate mechanisms of how physical activity protects against cancer

Sat Jun 14 10:11:00 BST 2014


- Approximately 330,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in the UK each year.


Dr James Turner from the Department for Health has been awarded a 12-month research grant to investigate possible mechanisms of how regular exercise reduces the risk of developing cancer.

The project will make the most of local expertise in several dimensions of healthy living and cancer care, including; analysis of physical activity levels and body composition with Dr Dylan Thompson in the Department for Health; signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety with Dr Andrew Medley in the Department of Psychology; and routine cancer treatment with Dr Mark Beresford, consultant oncologist at the Royal United Hospital Bath.

The research is funded by the Physiological Society and the project is titled: Does physical activity stimulate our immune system to better protect us against cancer?

According to research, adopting a physically active lifestyle can reduce the risk of developing some cancers by about 25%. The physiological mechanisms underlying this protective anti-cancer effect of exercise are not well understood.

Taking a different approach to many past studies, the researchers are going to examine whether exercise stimulates cells of our immune system to seek out and kill body cells that have gone wrong and become pre-cancerous. This natural immune defence is very important in protecting against and fighting cancer – recent cutting edge cancer therapies being developed for use in patients harness the power of our immune system to treat cancer.

Speaking about the new project, James commented: “The funds awarded by the Physiological Society enable the start of an important and exciting new research area in the Department for Health. This novel and very exploratory study will help us better understand how exercise reduces the risk of cancer in healthy people, and working with the Royal United Hospital Bath, we eventually hope to improve or optimise cancer treatment in patients."