Purpose: We evaluate the effect of an exercised prehabilitation programme on tumour response in rectal cancer patients following neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy (NACRT).
Patients and Methods: Rectal cancer patients with (MRI-defined) threatened resection margins who completed standardized NACRT were prospectively studied in a post hoc, explorative analysis of two previously reported clinical trials. MRI was performed at Weeks 9 and 14 post-NACRT, with surgery at Week 15. Patients undertook a 6-week preoperative exercise-training programme. Oxygen uptake (VO2) at anaerobic threshold (AT) was measured at baseline (pre-NACRT), after completion of NACRT and at week 6 (post-NACRT). Tumour related outcome variables: MRI tumour regression grading (ymrTRG) at Week 9 and 14; histopathological T-stage (ypT); and tumour regression grading (ypTRG)) were compared.
Results: 35 patients (26 males) were recruited. 26 patients undertook tailored exercise-training with 9 unmatched controls. NACRT resulted in a fall in VO2 at AT −2.0 ml/kg−1/min−1(−1.3,−2.6), p < 0.001. Exercise was shown to reverse this effect. VO2 at AT increased between groups, (post-NACRT vs. week 6) by +1.9 ml/kg−1/min−1(0.6, 3.2), p = 0.007. A significantly greater ypTRG in the exercise group at the time of surgery was found (p = 0.02).
Conclusion: Following completion of NACRT, exercise resulted in significant improvements in fitness and augmented pathological tumour regression