Millions for research into physical training prior to cancer surgery

​With grants totalling more than DKK 10 mill. (EUR 1.3 mill.), TrygFonden’s Centre for Physical Activity Research at Rigshospitalet can now examine whether targeted physical training can help cancer patients through major surgery.

Image (photographer: Franz Veisig): Projectleader Jesper Frank Christensen is one of the researchers from TrygFonden’s Centre for Physical Activit, who will investigate the significance of physical training prior to cancer surgery.

Researchers from TrygFonden’s Centre for Physical Activity Research can now investigate the significance of physical training prior to cancer surgery. Over the past few months, researchers have been pledged four grants totalling around DKK 10 mill. (EUR 1.3 mill.), all of which will be spent on examining the impact of structured physical training for cancer patients. 
The Centre for Physical Activity Research has been working in the area for many years, and according to Group Leader Jesper Frank Christensen, the funding will provide a solid foundation for the next five years of the research programme in close collaboration with the Department of Surgical Gastroenterology and the Department of Oncology at Rigshospitalet.

  • Our principal idea is that physical training can be incorporated as a sort of pre-treatment before cancer surgery. We know from basic research and animal experiments that physiological changes take place in the body during training and physical exercise, and it is likely that these will influence the development of cancer cells and could possibly improve patients’ tolerance to chemotherapy and surgery,” said Jesper Frank Christensen 
He explained that high-intensity training is a stress factor for a body already under pressure from cancer treatment, and therefore there may be a greater risk of admission, injury or infection. 

  • Now we can investigate physical training as a treatment strategy for these cancer patients in a number of extensive clinical trials in which we will compare the effect of the treatment with any risk of unintended outcomes," said Jesper Frank Christensen. 

Lower risk of relapse

The Centre has received the largest grant from TrygFonden, with funding of DKK 5 mill. (EUR 0.6 mill.) over five years for the PRESET study. A pilot study has already shown positive results from physical training for patients with cancer of the oesophagus and stomach. The funding means that researchers can now carry out an extensive study with 310 patients, of which one half will undergo physical training during chemotherapy treatment before their surgery, while the other half will undergo the standard process. The researchers will look at whether physical training can improve patients’ chances of getting through chemotherapy with fewer complications and thereby achieve better treatment outcomes than patients in the control group.

  • TrygFonden aims to help more people in Denmark to live a long life with the best possible quality of life and with as little physical and psychological discomfort as possible. The project is about whether physical training before an operation for cancer of the oesophagus and stomach can improve patients’ chances of getting through their operation with fewest possible complications, and can generally increase their chances of survival, and it is very exciting. Thorough preliminary work has already been done, and the team behind the project has considerable experience with municipal collaboration. If the project shows positive results, it will make a big difference for a vulnerable group of patients and their families,” said Anders Hede, Head of Research at TrygFonden 

One of the first in the world

The World Cancer Research Funds has donated almost DKK 3 mill. (EUR 0.4 mill.) to the same series of trials for a number of molecular studies of what happens in tumour cells and immune cells when these cancer patients exercise. With this data, the researchers can identify possible underlying biological mechanisms.
Dr Anna Diaz Font, Head of Research Funding at the World Cancer Research Fund said: 

  • There is currently not enough evidence to give recommendations to cancer survivors on how to improve their survival after a cancer diagnosis. Dr Christensen’s project will be one of the first studies in the world to explore the effects of exercise training before cancer surgery in patients undergoing chemotherapy, so we are very excited to be funding it. It is invaluable research as it could potentially improve long-term survival of patients with oesophagus or stomach cancer.

Jesper Frank Christensen has also been told that, via its annual national Knæk Cancer campaign, the Danish Cancer Society will grant DKK 2.5 mill. to the CFAS clinical cancer programme. This grant will be used to examine whether patients with cancer of the large intestine and liver metastases can reduce their risk of relapse and improve their condition if they perform physical training before or after surgery for liver metastases. However, the grant depends on the outcome of the Knæk Cancer campaign in autumn 2019. 

This latter research project has also received a separate grant of DKK 300,000 from NEYE-Fonden.

Collaboration with municipalities

The research projects are being conducted in collaboration with a number of municipal and private rehabilitation training centres on Zealand and Bornholm, where the participants in the trial actually do their training, said Jesper Frank Christensen.

  • A large part of the success of our studies depends on us being able to have a formalised collaboration with local centres in municipalities. At the moment, training programmes offered to patients by municipalities are very different. By formalising the collaboration, we can ensure that all citizens and patients across all centres and municipalities complete the same training programme when they participate in our projects,” said Jesper Frank Christensen.   

Contact information:

Jesper Frank Christensen
Group Leader at TrygFonden’s Centre for Physical Activity Research, Rigshospitalet
Tel. +45 3545 6550

Jonas Gamrath Rasmussen
Communication Consultent, Rigshospitalet
Tel. +45 3545 6474 / mob: +45 6124 7399

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