Exercise and counselling may reduce cancer-related fatigue

In collaboration with the Press Association

People with cancer who are undergoing radiotherapy or chemotherapy may find that regular exercise and psychological counselling can help to combat the fatigue commonly associated with treatment.

Around 90 per cent of cancer patients find that they experience fatigue, which is often mild but can in some cases interfere with the patient's ability to work, as well as their relationships and physical and emotional wellbeing.

Many are reluctant to take further medications to combat this fatigue, however, so a number of studies have been conducted in recent years to determine whether psychological therapy and exercise can help to manage the symptoms.

Researchers at the H Lee Moffitt Cancer Centre in Tampa, Florida, have now conducted a review of 41 such studies, 17 of which looked at activity-based interventions at various stages of patients' treatment.

The remainder evaluated psychological interventions, such as weekly telephone counselling and group therapy sessions to teach stress management and relaxation techniques.

Reporting their findings in the journal Health Psychology, the team, led by Paul Jacobsen, reveal that 44 per cent of the activity-based trials and 50 per cent of the reliable psychological trials reported significant results, although Dr Jacobsen noted that the overall effects of both types of intervention on fatigue were "modest".

"The effects of psychological interventions were sufficiently large, however, to say that they were unlikely to have occurred by chance alone using conventional definitions of statistical significance," he noted.

The scientist stressed the importance of discussing possible interventions with a doctor before embarking upon any chosen route, particularly in the case of exercise.

"Patients should consult with their physicians before initiating an exercise regimen," he said.

"They should also let their physician know if they plan to continue to engage in regular exercise while undergoing taxing treatments like chemotherapy."