Cancer: Astronaut training can support healing

Cancer: Astronaut training can support healing

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Astronaut training program could improve cancer recovery

Training sessions by astronauts to maintain health seem to help people with cancer to better deal with stress during chemotherapy and other treatments, according to a recent study. The regeneration of the patients also improved.

The recent study by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and NASA found that astronaut training programs can also help people with cancer in their treatment. The results of the study were published in the renowned English-language journal "Cell".

What health problems do astronauts develop?

Programs used by astronauts to maintain their health could also help cancer patients recover better after their treatment. For example, astronauts suffer from a decrease in muscle mass, bone demineralization and changes in heart function during their stays in space. In addition, astronauts in space may have difficulty concentrating and forgetting things more easily.

Similar effects in cancer patients and astronauts

This is similar to the effects of what some cancer patients experience with chemotherapy. This led to the idea of ​​testing the astronauts' advanced training in cancer patients.

Weightlessness affects our organs

Since the first astronauts were launched, researchers have been interested in the effects of weightlessness on the body or on certain organs. The search for countermeasures that help people to stay physically and mentally healthy in space began very early. A possible strain on the heart was given particular attention. That is why the activity of the heart was monitored before, during and after a stay in space.

Space travel strains the heart

NASA's concerns were well justified. Apollo astronaut James Irwin had an undiscovered coronary artery disease and 21 months after returning to Earth he had an acute myocardial infarction. Various training programs were developed which astronauts had to complete in order to protect themselves from such events.

What form of training do astronauts take?

For example, Project Mercury astronauts had to run every day in 1959 one month before their flight. Later, during their longer stays on a space station, astronauts had to do a combination of aerobics and strength training. Today, astronauts work with researchers to develop an effective strength, conditioning, and rehabilitation program.

These risks have a major impact on astronauts

After more than 50 years of manned space travel, researchers are aware of some of the risks that weightlessness poses to the human body. For example, astronauts have to deal with a stressful environment, noise, isolation, disturbed circadian rhythm and radiation exposure.

Bones and muscles suffer from space travel

By staying in space, astronauts can experience a weakening and loss of bone and muscle mass over time. Astronauts also suffer from a decrease in blood volume, a weakened immune system and cardiovascular deconditioning. Various countermeasures have been developed to minimize these risks.

The fitness of cancer patients is neglected

Cancer is a chronic disease with which there is currently no comparable program of countermeasures. Unlike astronauts, cancer patients do not train or monitor cardiorespiratory fitness. Cancer treatments attempt to control tumors by reducing their size and the way they spread.

When it comes to cancer, we rely on medication

Currently, the management of the toxicity of cancer treatment falls on drugs that target the function of individual organs. However, these medications do not help sick people to recover. NASA programs could be used to address some of the long-term side effects of cancer treatments.

Movement Against Cancer Side Effects?

According to the researchers, many of those affected do not die from their cancer, but from the side effects that occur. For example, walking on a treadmill can help cancer patients improve their fitness and thus protect them from heart problems, which can occur as a side effect of the treatment. It is currently being investigated to what extent exercise can compensate for these treatment side effects.

Astronaut training could improve tolerance and recovery

Further research is needed to check whether a program with the countermeasures mentioned would also work individually. Such a program could accompany cancer sufferers throughout their treatment. The research team concludes that there is a very high probability that training for astronauts would optimize tolerance and recovery in cancer treatments. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Jessica M. Scott, Lianne B. Dolan, Larry Norton, John B. Charles, Lee W. Jones: Multisystem Toxicity in Cancer: Lessons from NASA’s Countermeasures Program, in Cell (query: November 15, 2019), Cell

Video: Astronaut Training: How to become an Astronaut. Space Science. Episode 2. Free Documentary (September 2022).


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