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Exercise capacity may affect the cognitive health of childhood leukemia survivors

A new study found a link between reduced exercise capacity and neurocognitive problems in survivors of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common childhood cancer. The findings are published early in online Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society.

Survivors of childhood ALL are at increased risk of experiencing neurocognitive deficits and decreased exercise capacity due to their disease and its treatment. A team led by Kirsten Ness, Ph.D., and Nicholas Phillips, MD, Ph.D., of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, looked for an association between these outcomes by examining exercise and neuropsychological test results, as well as questionnaire answers, from 341 adult childhood survivors of ALL and 288 healthy controls. The researchers measured how much physical activity survivors could tolerate and how related to their ability to think, learn, memorize, read, and do math.

Compared with controls, survivors had worse cardiovascular fitness and poorer performance on neuropsychological tests, including those related to attention, memory, and academic skills. After adjusting for age, sex, radiation and chemotherapy treatments, smoking status, and physical activity, the authors found that increases in exercise capacity were associated with better performance on various neuropsychological tests among survivors.

Previous studies in children and older adults without cancer suggest that physical fitness can provide benefits to brain function and academic performance. Results from the current study indicate that such benefits may also be experienced by children with cancer who need potentially neurotoxic anticancer treatments.

"Our research suggests that a slight improvement in exercise tolerance, such as going from sitting on the couch and watching TV to walking around the block for 30 minutes a day, can have a significant impact on survivors' intellectual health," said Dr. Phillips. "We know that memory and thinking skills decline as we age. Any improvement in exercise tolerance, even in adulthood, may have an impact on a survivor's ability to think, learn, and memorize," added Dr. Ness.

A randomized clinical trial is needed to test whether interventions that improve exercise capacity might be helpful.

Exercise may lower mortality in adult survivors of childhood CA.

More information:
Cancer (2019). DOI: 10.1002 / cncr.32510

                                                 Exercise capacity may affect the cognitive health of childhood leukemia survivors (2019, October 21)
                                                 retrieved 21 October 2019

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