Exercise can improve quality of life during and after cancer treatment

In collaboration with the Press Association

Exercise can improve the quality of life of some cancer patients and survivors, according to two new reviews of the evidence published by the Cochrane Collaboration.

Researchers gathered together evidence from around the world, which showed that activities such as walking and cycling can benefit those who are undergoing or have completed treatment for cancer.

But the scientists said that further work is needed to work out which types of exercise are most suitable, and cautioned that exercise is not necessarily suitable for all.

In the first review, experts looked at the results of 56 trials involving almost 5,000 people being treated for different types of cancer. 

The second review looked at data on more than 3,500 people who had completed treatment for cancer.

Each study compared the quality of life of cancer patients who exercised with patients whose care did not include prescribed exercise. None of the trials included in the study involved people who were terminally ill.

The types of exercise studied included walking, cycling, yoga, resistance training and strength training.

Overall, exercise was found to improve, to varying degrees, health-related quality of life and social functioning, and to combat feelings of fatigue.

Patients who were undergoing treatment reported benefits in their physical well being from exercise. And those who had finished treatment saw improvements in self-esteem, emotional well-being, sleep patterns and anxiety levels.

"We need to treat these findings with caution," said lead author Dr Shiraz Mishra of the University of Albuquerque in the US. "The trials we included looked at many different kinds of exercise programmes, which varied by type of exercise, length of the programme and how hard the participants had to exercise."

He added: "We need to understand from future trials how to maintain the positive impacts of exercise in the longer term and whether there are particular types of exercise that are suited to particular types of cancer."

Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK, agreed that the work confirms the benefits for some cancer patients and cancer survivors.

But he cautioned that, although exercise may be perfectly possible for some, it's not appropriate for everyone.

"The study looked at many different kinds of activity and at several types of cancer, so further studies are needed before specific advice can be made about which exercise works best and for whom it's most appropriate.

"We recommend that cancer patients check with their doctors before starting any new exercise regime," he added.

Copyright Press Association 2012


  • Mishra SI et al: Exercise interventions on health-related quality of life for cancer survivors. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD007566. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007566.pub2
  • Mishra SI et al: Exercise interventions on health-related quality of life for people with cancer during active treatment. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD008465. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008465.pub2