Before I explain the value of weight training in prostate cancer therapy, here's a brief background on the prostate cancer treatment relevant to this article.
Prostate Cancer Hormone Treatment
Prostate cancer is the scourge of the ageing male. It can develop silently with few symptoms, progress slowly, or sometimes rapidly once a critical point is reached, and may require surgery and perhaps drug treatment to cure or slow its development. The prostate is a walnut-size gland just below the bladder and it produces seminal fluid but not sperm.
In most men over 50, the prostate gland grows and may block the flow of urine to some extent, but this is not prostate cancer only 'benign prostate hypertrophy' and it has little to do with prostate cancer, which can spread beyond the prostate.
Because the male hormone testosterone seems to cause most prostate cancers to grow, one of the treatments for prostate cancer is the delivery of drugs to stop the body producing or using testosterone as it normally does, the result being a slowing or cessation of the cancer growth. The problem with this approach is that without testosterone various unwanted health effects occur: reduced muscle strength and bone mass and increased risk of fractures, increased fat mass and reduced muscle mass, unfavorable cholesterol levels and depression and mood swings.
How Can Weight Training Help?
Could weight training prevent some of these symptoms occurring? That's what researchers from the School of Exercise, Biomedical and Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University in Western Australia attempted to find out. They studied 10 men aged 59-82 yr on androgen deprivation for localized prostate cancer before and after progressive resistance training for 20 weeks at 6-12-repetition maximum (RM) for 12 upper- and lower-body exercises in a university exercise rehabilitation clinic. The exercises included the chest press, seated row, shoulder press, lat pull-down, triceps extension, biceps curl, leg press, squat, leg extension, leg curl, abdominal crunch, and back-extension exercises.
If you need to see how such a weight training program could look in detail, see my Basic Strength and Muscle Program, which is similar.
The research team tested the subjects at the beginning of the study, at 10 weeks and at 20 weeks for elements of body composition, strength, exercise performance and blood parameters. Here is what they found.
- Body composition
There were no significant overall changes to body fat, muscle mass or bone mineral density in the group. Note, however, the quadricep muscle mass improvement noted below.
- Muscle strength and endurance
A significant increase in muscle strength and endurance was noted for the exercises tested for the upper and lower body. Thigh quadricep muscle size increased significantly -- in some subjects up to 15 percent.
- Exercise performance
After 20 weeks of training there was a significant improvement in physical performance in the nominated exercises of chair rise, stair climbing, and walking tests with incremental performance improvements at 10 weeks and up to 20 weeks.
- Blood parameters
There were no significant differences in PSA, hormones or hemoglobin blood measurements.
What Do the Results Mean?
Even though the study could have produced more meaningful results had it been a randomized study where two groups were chosen -- one group chosen randomly to perform the weight training and another to act as a 'control' group -- nevertheless, the positive aspects of the study are that strength increased and muscle and bone mass did not decrease significantly nor did fat mass increase. These are the crucial factors likely to be adversely affected in hormone depletion treatment, so overall the results are very promising.
The bottom line is that if you do find yourself in such a prostate cancer treatment situation, weight training can probably help you to maintain important elements of physical function and health while undergoing the best treatment as recommended by your specialist.
Galvao DA, Taaffe DR, Spry N, Newton RU. Exercise can prevent and even reverse adverse effects of androgen suppression treatment in men with prostate cancer. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 2007 May 8; [Epub ahead of print]
Galvao DA, Nosaka K, Taaffe DR, Spry N, Kristjanson LJ, McGuigan MR, Suzuki K, Yamaya K, Newton RU. Resistance training and reduction of treatment side effects in prostate cancer patients. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Dec;38(12):2045-52.