Individuals who exercise regularly are 20 per cent less likely to develop bowel cancer compared to those with a sedentary lifestyle, new research has identified.

Academics from Newcastle University have found that exercise releases the cancer-fighting protein interleukin-6 (IL-6) into the bloodstream to help fix the DNA of damaged cells.

Lead author, Dr Sam Orange said: “Previous scientific evidence suggests that more exercise is better for reducing bowel cancer risk as the more physical activity people do, the lower their chances of getting it. Our findings support this idea.

“When exercise is repeated multiple times each week over an extended period, cancer-fighting substances – such as IL-6 – released into the bloodstream have the opportunity to interact with abnormal cells, repairing their DNA and reducing growth into cancer.”

During the study, the team of scientists examined the blood samples of 16 men between the age of 50 and 80, both before and after an intense exercise session. They also assessed additional blood samples before and after the participants rested.

The team detected higher levels of IL-6 protein in the blood samples taken after the participant’s cycled on indoor bikes compared to after they rested.

As part of the study, the researchers also added all of the blood samples to bowel cancer cells in a laboratory and assessed the cell growth over a two-day period.

They found that the blood samples taken after exercise reduced cancer cell growth more than the other samples.

In addition, they identified that the blood samples collected after exercise prevented DNA damage, the study has reported.

Dr Orange said: “Our findings are really exciting because they reveal a newly identified mechanism underlying how physical activity reduces bowel cancer risk that is not dependant on weight loss.

“Understanding these mechanisms better could help develop more precise exercise guidelines for cancer prevention.”

Dr Orange added: “It could also help develop drug treatments that mimic some of the health benefits of exercise.

“Physical activity of any type, and any duration, can improve health and reduce bowel cancer risk but more is always better. People who are sedentary should begin by moving more and look to build physical activity into their daily routines.”

Fellow researcher, Dr Adam Odell said: “Importantly, it is not just bowel cancer risk that can be reduced by leading a more active lifestyle.

“Clear links exist between higher exercise levels and a lower risk of developing other cancers, such as cancers of the breast and endometrium.”

He added: “By working out a mechanism through which regular physical activity is able to produce anti-cancer effects, our study provides further support for current national and global efforts to increase exercise participation.”

In the UK, bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer, making up 11 per cent of new cancer cases.

Each year, more than 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK, which is roughly 120 each day.

The full set of results can now be accessed in the International Journal of Cancer.

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