It’s no secret that the combination of a high-fat diet and a sedentary lifestyle, taken over time, is bad for your health. It can lead to heart problems, diabetes and fatty liver disease, which can lead to hepatocellular carcinoma—liver cancer.
Could it be, then, that staying fit can fight cancer?
A new study suggests that may be the case.
In an abstract presented last week at the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL), mice genetically programmed to develop liver cancer that were subjected to a regular exercise regime had a lower incidence of cancer than mice on a sedentary routine. The Switzerland-based research team found that 71 percent of the exercised mice developed tumors of a certain size versus 100 percent of the sedentary mice. The number of tumors and overall volume of cancerous tissue was lower, too, in the active mice.
While these findings didn’t hold across the board—the exercise effect disappeared for mice on a high-fat diet—it offers hope for future human studies: exercise might actually help prevent liver cancer in high-risk patients.
And although the cancer risk wasn’t lower for active mice on a high-fat diet, exercise did reduce the incidence of fatty liver disease, which has its own health complications and may lead to cancer.
“We know that modern, unhealthy lifestyles predispose people to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease which may lead to liver cancer,” said study co-author Jean-Francois Dufour in a press release. “However it’s been previously unknown whether regular exercise reduces the risk of developing [hepatocellular carcinoma]. This research is significant because it opens the door for further studies to prove that regular exercise can reduce the chance of people developing HCC.”
According to the World Health Organization, liver cancer kills 695,000 people a year worldwide.