A study looking at exercise to improve fitness after chemoradiotherapy for rectal cancer

Cancer type:

Bowel (colorectal) cancer
Rectal cancer





This study looked at whether a short period of exercise helped to improve the fitness of people after having chemoradiotherapy. The trial was for people with cancer of the back passage (rectum Open a glossary item).

Doctors often give a combination of chemotherapy with radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy) to people with rectal cancer before they have surgery. This is to shrink the cancer and make it easier to take out.

We know that chemoradiotherapy can lower a person’s physical fitness level. The researchers thought that a short period of exercise after chemoradiotherapy may help improve fitness levels. They also thought this could help people recover better and more quickly after surgery.

The aims of this trial were to find out if

  • It was practical and possible to run an exercise programme for this group of patients
  • Exercise improved fitness levels after chemoradiotherapy

Summary of results

The study team found that a supervised exercise programme after chemoradiotherapy is possible for people with rectal cancer.  

The study recruited 35 people who had chemoradiation before surgery for their rectal cancer.

This was a pilot study. Everyone taking part was put into 1 of 2 groups. Neither they nor their doctor could choose which group they were in.

The research team didn’t know which group the people were in.

There were 22 people in group 1. They had 3 supervised exercise sessions a week for 6 weeks at the hospital.

There were 13 people in group 2. They had standard care only. This meant they had no advice about any sort of exercise to do. They were the control group Open a glossary item.

Everyone had a test to find out how well their heart and lungs worked and how fit they were. This is called a cardiopulmonary exercise test (CPET for short). They had CPET

  • 2 weeks before having chemoradiotherapy
  • Immediately after chemoradiotherapy then at 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 9 weeks and 14 weeks afterwards

The researchers found that 6 weeks of supervised exercise did increase the physical fitness of people after chemoradiation.

The study team concluded that a supervised exercise programme after chemoradiation was possible. And that such a programme did improve people’s fitness after chemoradiation.   

The research team is now doing a larger study looking at the changes in physical fitness and quality of life of people after 9 weeks exercise following chemoradiation.  

We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Malcolm West

Supported by

Aintree University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre
University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust
University of Liverpool

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Last review date

CRUK internal database number:


Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Around 1 in 5 people take part in clinical trials

3 phases of trials

Around 1 in 5 people diagnosed with cancer in the UK take part in a clinical trial.

Last reviewed:

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