Anti-carcinogenic effects of exercise-conditioned human serum: evidence, relevance and opportunities

Richard S. Metcalfe*, Rachael Kemp, Shane M. Heffernan, Rachel Churm, Yung Chih Chen, José S. Ruffino, Gillian E. Conway, Giusy Tornillo, Samuel T. Orange

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Regular physical activity reduces the risk of several site-specific cancers in humans and suppresses tumour growth in animal models. The mechanisms through which exercise reduces tumour growth remain incompletely understood, but an intriguing and accumulating body of evidence suggests that the incubation of cancer cells with post-exercise serum can have powerful effects on key hallmarks of cancer cell behaviour in vitro. This suggests that exercise can impact tumour biology through direct changes in circulating proteins, RNA molecules and metabolites. Here, we provide a comprehensive narrative overview of what is known about the effects of exercise-conditioned sera on in vitro cancer cell behaviour. In doing so, we consider the key limitations of the current body of literature, both from the perspective of exercise physiology and cancer biology, and we discuss the potential in vivo physiological relevance of these findings. We propose key opportunities for future research in an area that has the potential to identify key anti-oncogenic protein targets and optimise physical activity recommendations for cancer prevention, treatment and survivorship.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2107-2124
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Aug


  • Cancer cell apoptosis
  • Cancer cell growth
  • Cancer cell proliferation
  • Cancer prevention
  • Cancer therapy
  • Exercise
  • Exercise-conditioned serum
  • Physical activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Physiology (medical)


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