Endocrine and immune responses to resistance training in prostate cancer patients


This study examined the effect of 20 weeks resistance training on a range of serum hormones and inflammatory markers at rest, and following acute bouts of exercise in prostate cancer patients undergoing androgen deprivation. Ten patients exercised twice weekly at high intensity for several upper and lower-body muscle groups. Neither testosterone nor prostate-specific antigen changed at rest or following an acute bout of exercise. However, serum growth hormone (GH), dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), interleukin-6, tumor necrosis factor-α and differential blood leukocyte counts increased (P<0.05) following acute exercise. Resistance exercise does not appear to compromise testosterone suppression, and acute elevations in serum GH and DHEA may partly underlie improvements observed in physical function.


Androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) is widely employed in the management of prostate cancer to improve survival during the early stage of the disease and to gain control of the disease in the more advanced situations.1, 2 ADT is achieved by either surgical castration, or more commonly by administering luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone agonist (LHRHa) or antiandrogen medications that block the androgen receptors, or both.2 However, ADT is accompanied by a range of adverse effects including reduced muscle strength, lean and bone mass, increased fat mass and fracture risk.3, 4 These side effects are clinically important, because they are likely to compromise physical function, reduce independence and quality of life.5 Regular resistance training is a reliable, safe and effective countermeasure to the age-related loss of skeletal muscle6 and bone7 in healthy older adults, and may counter or even reverse some of the negative side effects that often accompany ADT.8

We and others have recently reported beneficial effects of resistance training on physical function and quality of life in patients on ADT following 12 weeks of moderately intense training9 and 20 weeks of heavy training.10 We noted that muscle strength improved and lean mass was preserved without any harmful effect on prostate cancer disease control, as assessed by the resting level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA),10 or on the therapeutic castrate resting level of testosterone. The latter finding contrasts with the situation in the non-androgen-suppressed individual, where resistance training can lead to acute testosterone release (changes occurring immediately after an exercise session), which could adversely affect ADT disease control. However, the acute effect of resistance training on testosterone release in prostate cancer patients undergoing ADT is unknown and remains to be determined. Moreover, resistance training may lead to other hormonal changes, such as in circulating levels of growth hormone (GH) and intramuscular insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which are well described among healthy older adults.11, 12 In prostate cancer patients, no data are currently available on the acute effects of resistance training on these growth factors and increased circulating levels of GH and IGF-1 in prostate cancer patients may help to improve physical function and quality of life, and to preserve body composition.

Prostate cancer is also associated with a chronic low-grade inflammation type state, as indicated by elevated circulating levels of the cytokines interleukin (IL)-6, tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and IL-8.13 Although elevated levels of IL-6 have been associated with the age-related decline in muscle mass,14, 15 IL-6 may not actually contribute to muscle loss. Instead, IL-6 may be elevated in response to ongoing production of TNF-α.14, 15 Exercise induces IL-6 production in skeletal muscle, and it has been proposed that IL-6 may underlie some of the beneficial effects of exercise by inhibiting the synthesis of TNF-α and stimulating the production of other anti-inflammatory cytokines.14, 15 Data from cross-sectional studies currently exist to support a relationship between physical inactivity and chronic low-grade inflammation.16, 17, 18 However, few longitudinal intervention studies have investigated changes in markers of inflammation in response to exercise training, particularly in patients with prostate cancer.

We initiated a longitudinal study of high-intensity resistance training in men undergoing ADT for prostate cancer with the following aims: (1) to determine if resting concentrations of serum hormones, markers of disease, inflammation and bone turnover are altered following 10 and 20 weeks of high-intensity resistance training and (2) to determine acute changes in these blood variables following a single bout of heavy resistance exercise.



Subject recruitment, inclusion and exclusion criteria, and the effects of the intervention on muscle function, functional performance, balance and body composition have been reported previously.10 Eligible patients had been on ADT for at least 2 months (to avoid the acute phase changes), needed to be no evidence of active disease, and subjects were not to have undertaken any previous resistance training. Before participation, all subjects obtained medical clearance from their physician and completed a health history questionnaire. The study was approved by the University Human Research Ethics Committee, and all subjects provided written informed consent. Eleven men were eligible to participate in the study and they were invited for familiarization sessions. Ten men completed 40 resistance training sessions and two separate acute resistance exercise protocols during the course of 20 weeks. ADT was achieved by LHRHa treatment in nine men and cyproterone acetate in the remaining subject. All subjects received ADT for at least 2 months before the commencement of the study and continued for the duration of the experimental period.

Training program

A full description of the training program has been previously reported.10 Briefly, participants were trained twice per week for 20 weeks, in small groups and under direct supervision. The first 10 weeks of the program involved an introductory period of whole body resistance exercise, during which the subjects used hydraulic resistance training machines (Isotronic, Fitness Technology, Adelaide, Australia). These machines are simple and time efficient to use, and are restricted to concentric muscle contractions. In the following 10 weeks, the training program was restricted to the use of isotonic resistance equipment, providing concentric and eccentric muscle contractions for whole body exercises similar to those used in the initial 10-week period (Cybex, Strength Equipment, Medway, Stoughton, MA, USA). Both training phases were designed as weeks 1–2 (two sets of 12 repetition maximum (RM)), weeks 3–4 (three sets of 10-RM), weeks 5–7 (three sets of 8-RM) and weeks 8–10 (four sets of 6-RM). The program was based on the American College of Sports Medicine position stand on progression models in resistance training for healthy adults.19

Acute resistance exercise bout

Hydraulic acute exercise bout

Following 10 weeks of hydraulic training, all subjects performed an acute exercise bout using the hydraulic resistance equipment, completing four sets of eight resistance exercises at 6-RM. Rest between sets was 1−1.5 min, with 2−4 min between exercises. The exercises performed were the chest press-seated row, squat, shoulder press-lat pulldown, leg press, triceps extension-biceps curl, leg extension-leg curl, upper rower dips and abdominal crunch-back extension.

Isotonic acute exercise bout

Following the 10-week period of isotonic training, subjects also performed an acute bout of isotonic exercise, completing four sets of eight exercises at 6-RM. The rest periods were similar to that for the hydraulic exercise bout. The exercises performed were the chest press, leg press, lat pulldown, leg extension, shoulder press, leg curl, seated row and abdominal crunch.

Blood sampling

Venous blood samples were drawn from a forearm vein at a fixed time (0830–0010 hours) before the training program commenced, as well as before and immediately after the heavy resistance exercise sessions at weeks 10 and 20. Blood was collected into sterile vacutainers containing K2-ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) and serum separation tubes (Becton Dickinson, Franklin Lakes, NJ, USA). The blood collected by K2-EDTA tube was used for complete blood cell counts using a Beckman Coulter-Counter Gen-S (France SA, Villepinte, France), and hemoglobin concentration was measured by an automated analyzer (Sysmex XE-AlphaN, Sysmex Corporation, Kobe, Japan). The serum separation tubes were left at room temperature for the blood to clot, and then centrifuged for 10 min at 3000 r.p.m. at 4°C The serum samples were stored in 0.7 ml aliquots at −80°C until the day of analysis.

Prostate cancer markers

PSA in the serum was measured by an Immurise Analyzer (Beckman Coulter Inc., Fullerton, CA, USA) using a test kit (Diagnostic Products Corporation, Los Angeles, CA, USA).


Serum hormone concentrations were determined by RIA for free testosterone (DPC free testosterone kit, Diagnostic Products Corporation), GH (GH Kit, SRL Co., Tokyo, Japan), cortisol (Cortisol Kit, Immunotech, Beckman Coulter Inc., Prague, Czech Republic), and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) (DPC DHEA kit, Diagnostic Products Corporation). Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) was measured by an Immmurise Analyzer (Beckman Coulter Inc.) using a commercial kit (Diagnostic Products Corporation). IGF-1 was measured with an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) kit (Diagnostic Systems Laboratories Inc., Webster, TX).

Bone markers

The serum markers of bone formation, alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and osteocalcin were measured by a JEOL Clinical Analyzer BM12 (JEOL Ltd., Tokyo, Japan) using an L-Type ALP kit (Wako Pure Chemical Industries Ltd., Osaka, Japan) and by enzyme immunoassay with a BTI Intact Osteocalcin EIA kit (Biomedical Technologies Inc., Stoughton, MA, USA). Tartrate-resistance acid phosphatase isoform 5b (TRACP5b), a marker of bone resorption, was measured by ELISA (Suomen Bioanalytiikka Oy, SBA Sciences, Turku, Finland).

Inflammatory markers

Serum C-reactive protein (CRP) was analyzed by ELISA (Max Human C-Reactive Protein ELISA Kit: EC1001-1, Winfield, MO, USA). Serum concentration of IL-6, IL-1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra), and TNF-α were measured using Quantikine high-sensitivity ELISA kits (R&D Systems, Minneapolis, MN, USA) and IL-8 concentration was measured using OptEIA kits (Becton Dickinson, San Diego, CA, USA).

Other measures

Serum creatine kinase (CK) activity was measured by a ultraviolet method (CPK-L, Nittohboh Medical Co., Tokyo, Japan).

Statistical analyses

Data were analyzed using the SPSS statistical software package (Version 11.0, SPSS Inc, Chicago, IL, USA). One-way repeated measures analysis of variance was used to compare changes over the three time points (baseline, weeks 10 and 20). Where appropriate, the Fisher-protected least significant difference test was employed to locate the source of significant differences. When comparing before and after responses to the acute bouts of exercise, paired t-tests were used. An α=0.05 was required for significance, and results are presented as the mean±s.e.


Measures of disease activity: PSA

PSA was not affected by training (Table 1).

Table 1 PSA, free testosterone, GH, IGF-1, cortisol, DHEA, DHEAS pre- and post-hydraulic and isotonic resistance exercise protocols (mean±s.e.)

Hormonal measures: free testosterone, GH, IGF-1, cortisol, DHEA and DHEAS

The resting concentrations of serum-free testosterone, GH, cortisol, IGF-1, DHEA or DHEAS did not change significantly over the intervention period (Table 1). Following the acute bout of exercise, free testosterone and cortisol did not change. GH tended to increase (P=0.088) following the hydraulic exercise bout at week 10, and increased significantly in response to the acute bout of isotonic exercise at week 20 (P=0.009). IGF-1 also tended to increase following both the hydraulic (P=0.088) and isotonic exercise bouts (P=0.059). DHEA increased significantly following both acute exercise bouts, whereas there were no changes in DHEAS.

Chronic inflammatory markers: IL-6, IL-8, IL-1ra, TNF-α and CRP

Serum IL-8 concentration increased at rest from week 10 to 20 (P=0.048), and there was a trend toward an increase between baseline and week 20 (P=0.065) (Table 2). The resting serum concentrations of IL-6, IL-1ra, TNF-α or CRP did not change during the 20 weeks of training. The acute bout of hydraulic exercise at week 10 had no significant effect on any inflammatory markers, except IL-8, which tended to increase (P=0.081), whereas the acute bout of isotonic exercise at week 20 resulted in an increase in both IL-6 (P=0.001) and TNF-α (P=0.050).

Table 2 IL-6, IL-8, IL-1ra, TNF-α, C-reactive protein, CK, TRACP5b, osteocalcin, alkaline phosphatase, hemoglobin, white blood cells, monocytes, neutrophils and lymphocytes pre- and post-hydraulic and isotonic resistance exercise protocols (mean±s.e.)

Hematological variables: hemoglobin, white cells, monocytes, neutrophils and lymphocytes

Resting hemoglobin concentration, blood neutrophil and monocyte counts did not change significantly over the 20-week training period (Table 2). Blood lymphocyte counts increased over time from baseline to week 10 (P=0.006), whereas total leukocyte counts decreased from week 10 to 20 (P=0.038). Following the acute hydraulic exercise bout at week 10, total leukocyte (P=0.035) and neutrophil counts increased significantly (P=0.029), whereas hemoglobin, monocytes and lymphocytes remained unchanged. The acute isotonic exercise bout at week 20 increased hemoglobin and all leukocyte counts (P<0.05).

Bone turnover markers: TRACP5b, ALP and osteocalcin

The resting serum concentrations of TRACP5b and ALP increased significantly over time from baseline to week 20 (P<0.05) (Table 2), whereas no changes occurred for osteocalcin.


Resting levels of CK did not change over time but increased following both acute exercise bouts (P<0.05) (Table 2).


This is the first study to evaluate the acute and chronic effects of resistance training on serum hormones, markers of disease and inflammation and chronic effects on bone turnover following high-intensity resistance training in prostate cancer patients on ADT. There were three important findings: (1) neither endogenous testosterone production nor disease activity were affected by resistance exercise; (2) significant changes occurred in GH and DHEA concentrations following an acute bout of heavy resistance exercise; (3) the immune response to exercise was similar to healthy individuals.

Resistance training may play an important role in the therapeutic management of prostate cancer patients by countering the adverse consequences of ADT on physical functioning and the musculoskeletal system. However, before such a role for resistance training can be endorsed and recommended for this patient population, clinicians need to be assured that the goals of androgen deprivation treatment are not compromised. We observed no significant effects of training on resting levels of serum hormones and growth factors (free testosterone, GH, IGF-1, cortisol, DHEA and DHEAS) following 20 weeks training. These findings are consistent with responses observed in healthy older adults not undergoing ADT,11, 20 and suggest that men undergoing ADT can safely participate in resistance training without adversely increasing their testosterone levels. This is an important outcome, because ADT is aimed at suppressing testosterone synthesis and release. PSA also did not change significantly following the training program, suggesting no detrimental effects on disease progression. These findings support and extend those previously reported by Segal et al.,9 where no changes were observed for testosterone and PSA following 12 weeks training performed at lower intensity and volume.

The acute resistance exercise bout performed at week 10 resulted in an increase in DHEA with no significant changes in PSA or any other serum hormones, while the acute exercise bout performed at week 20 (concentric and eccentric muscle contractions) lead to a significant increase in GH, DHEA and an elevation in IGF-1 with no changes occurring in PSA. Importantly, free testosterone remained suppressed following both acute heavy exercise bouts performed at weeks 10 and 20. This finding indicates that heavy bouts of exercise are unlikely to raise serum testosterone concentration as previously shown in non-ADT-treated older adults.11 The acute increases in GH as well as DHEA following both resistance exercise protocols could partially contribute to the physical and physiological benefits derived from the intervention (for example, strength gains, maintenance of lean mass).10 Others have reported no relationship between prostate cancer markers (for example, PSA) and growth factors,21, 22 which suggests that the transient increase in GH and IGF-1 may not compromise disease state and progression.

The present study also examined the effects of chronic and acute resistance training on markers of inflammation. We found no significant effect of 20 weeks of resistance training on the systemic concentrations IL-6, IL-1ra and TNF-α at rest. It is difficult to compare absolute concentrations for these cytokines between studies, because different methods have been used to measure cytokine concentrations. Nevertheless, the lack of any significant change in the resting concentration of these cytokines could be due to the fact that the cytokine concentrations were not as high as those reported in other older populations.23, 24

It was interesting to note that IL-6 and TNF-α did not change after the acute bout of resistance exercise at week 10, whereas these cytokines increased after the acute bout at week 20. It is likely that the inclusion of eccentric muscle contractions during the second bout of exercise caused more muscle damage, resulting in greater synthesis of IL-6 and TNF-α. CK, which is a common marker of exercise-induced muscle damage,25 increased followed both acute training protocols. The acute changes in IL-6 and TNF-α contrast with other findings following resistance exercise in young healthy individuals. Nieman et al.26 found an increase in plasma IL-6 concentration after 2 h intense resistance training, whereas Brenner et al.27 reported no change in plasma IL-6 or TNF-α concentration following intense circuit training. These differences could be due to variation in exercise protocols and subject characteristics.

Resting serum IL-8 concentration increased from week 10 to 20. Because IL-8 is generally considered to be a proinflammatory cytokine, this result was somewhat surprising − particularly in the absence of changes in IL-6, IL-1ra and TNF-α. The clinical significance of this increase is unclear. IL-8 plays an important role in the proliferation of prostatic epithelial cells in vitro.28 The increase in resting serum IL-8 concentration could therefore be possibly related to changes in disease status. In contrast to other studies,26 serum IL-8 concentration did not change after either bout of acute exercise. It is possible that IL-8 synthesis is impaired following exercise in older compared to young individuals.29

The increase in resting blood lymphocyte counts from baseline to week 10 may represent improved immune surveillance.30 The decrease in total leukocyte counts from week 10 to 20 is consistent with the findings from cross-sectional studies indicating that regular physical activity reduces total leukocyte counts.16, 17, 18 The effect of acute exercise on leukocyte, neutrophil, lymphocyte and monocyte counts is consistent with other studies involving resistance exercise,26, 31 and indicates a normal immune response to resistance exercise in these patients.

Osteoporosis and the risk of skeletal fractures is increased following ADT.4 A high rate of bone turnover is an indicator of a greater reduction in bone mass.32 In our previous report on these patients, whole body and total hip bone mineral density (BMD) assessed by dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) were maintained following 20 weeks of training.10 However, 20 weeks is a relatively short period of time to detect changes in BMD as a result of training or treatment. Consequently, it is of interest that we observed that TRACP5b, a biomarker of bone resorption33 and a predictor of trabecular bone fracture,34 as well as ALP increased following training. This could be an indicator of increased bone turnover due to either the exercise intervention or ADT. In addition, with an intervention duration of only 20 weeks, it cannot be determined if this increased activity is leading to bone accrual or depletion. Longer duration studies of at least 12 months and inclusion of an inactive control group are required to elucidate the influence of high-intensity resistance training on bone metabolism in men undertaking ADT.

The strength of this study includes the broad range of biomarkers that were measured, providing data on endocrine function, disease status, inflammation and bone turnover. A stronger experimental design would have been to use a randomized controlled trial, and we recognize this as a limitation to our study. However, it should be recognized that all men recruited for the screening and selection process indicated that they would not have complied with a 20-week control period if they had been allocated to a control group. In addition, a large number of prostate cancer patients (91 subjects) were initially screened for participation, whereas only 11 men met the study inclusion criteria. Consequently, it was not possible to randomly assign some of them to a control group without compromising the power of the study.

In summary, we found that resistance exercise can be safely incorporated as adjuvant therapy for prostate cancer patients on ADT without compromising the purpose of the therapy, which is to suppress testosterone. The present findings, combined with our previously reported findings,10 support resistance exercise as an effective means of reducing treatment-related side effects. Acute increases in GH and DHEA may partly underlie improvements observed in this patient group undergoing resistance training. Further, the immune responses to this exercise mode may improve immunosurveillance in these patients.


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This study was partly supported by a grant-in-aid for SCOE Research and Young Scientist (A) from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan (grant no. 17680047), Life Fitness Academy Michael Pollock Memorial Grant and Fitness Technology.

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Correspondence to D A Galvão.

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Galvão, D., Nosaka, K., Taaffe, D. et al. Endocrine and immune responses to resistance training in prostate cancer patients. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis 11, 160–165 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.pcan.4500991

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  • androgen antagonists
  • testosterone
  • inflammation
  • exercise

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