Review confirms exercise can help reduce cancer-related fatigue

In collaboration with the Press Association

Aerobic exercise like running, cycling or swimming can help alleviate fatigue during or following cancer treatment, a new research review has confirmed.

Fatigue is a widespread side-effect of cancer and cancer treatment, and can often persist for months or even years.

Tackling cancer-related fatigue is considered important - besides impacting on the patients quality of life, it can also reduce their desire to continue with their treatment.

Rest combined with periods of physical activity may help to reduce fatigue, according to the new review.

Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said: "Its been known for some time that striking a balance between activity and rest can help people manage cancer-related fatigue, and this study provides further evidence to support this. It's particularly encouraging that moderate aerobic exercise - like walking or cycling - seems to be most effective."

The new review builds on a 2008 systematic review on the benefits of exercise, published in the Cochrane Library, which found physical activity did have some benefits for cancer-related fatigue based on a limited number of case studies.

The updated review added an additional 28 studies to the 2008 original, creating a total of 56 studies - half of which looked at people with breast cancer - involving a total of 4,068 patients.

Those with solid tumours benefited from aerobic exercise both during and after cancer treatment, although other forms of exercise, such as resistance training, did not significantly reduce fatigue, researchers found.

"The evidence suggests that exercise may help reduce cancer-related fatigue and should therefore be considered as one component of a strategy for managing fatigue that may include a range of other interventions and education," Dr Fiona Cramp, part of the faculty of Health & Life Sciences at the University of the West of England, and lead researcher on the review, said.

"This updated review provides a more precise conclusion, showing specifically that aerobic exercise, both during and after cancer treatment, can be beneficial."

Cancer Research UK's Mr Ledwick added: "People with cancer don't need to invest in gym membership or costly equipment to get the benefit of exercise. Anyone affected by cancer should seek advice from their doctor before embarking on an exercise programme, just in case there is something about their condition that might make some forms of exercise risky for them."

Further studies will look at how the frequency and duration of exercise, and type of cancer, affect the results.

Dr Cramp added that since 28 of the studies focused on breast cancer patients, more research was needed to see how exercise might help people with a broad range of diagnoses, including those with more advanced cancers.

Copyright Press Association 2012

References

  • Cramp F, Byron-Daniel J. Exercise for the management of cancer-related fatigue in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 11. Art. No.: CD006145. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006145.pub3