Exercise and Cancer


Side effects from cancer treatment can greatly affect the quality of life for many patients. Among the many troubling side effects, loss of functional capacity and fatigue are often described by patients as some of the most debilitating (Hanna, Avila, Meteer, Nicholas, & Kaminsky, 2008). Research has found, however, that exercise has proven to be an effective management tool.

What is important about exercise and its relationship to cancer?

More patients than ever before are surviving cancer today. Each of these survivors has experienced some type of cancer treatment, varying from a single surgery to months or years of radiation, chemotherapy, and/or biotherapy. All of these treatments carry with them potentially harmful side effects, which are varied but may include weakness, fatigue, hair loss, nausea, pain, depression, and others, often culminating in a decline in the quality of life for patients.

Fatigue is often recognized as one of the most distressing side effects reported by patients and usually is more severe while patients are receiving treatment. Research has focused on ways to improve the quality of life of survivors, which included addressing fatigue and loss of functional capacity, to find strategies to manage it more effectively. By the mid-1980’s, research began to demonstrate that exercise is an effective management tool (Hanna et al., 2008).

How do you develop an exercise program for patients with cancer?

The goals of an exercise program should be specific and well defined (e.g., to alleviate symptoms, to improve functional capacity, to restore muscle function).These goals should drive the interventions, because specific interventions will likely produce specific outcomes. The most common types of exercise are aerobic, strength training, and flexibility. However, given the heterogeneity of cancer types, a one-size-fits-all approach to exercise and cancer is unlikely to be effective.

The goals will define the exercise prescription, which is has five components: mode, intensity, duration, frequency, and progression (Whaley, Brubacker, & Otto, 2006). An important factor to consider is whether the program will be supervised or home-based. Exercise testing to determine baseline functioning is critically important, as is the evaluative process chosen to determine progress. Many quality-of-life evaluative methods can address the endpoints that are often targeted in exercise prescriptions.

To learn more about the effects of exercise on cancer, cancer treatment, and cancer treatment side effects, as well as assessment and management strategies, visit the in-depth pages linked below.

Exercise and Cancer In-Depth Pages

  1. The Relationship Between Exercise and Cancer
  2. Research Associated With Exercise and Cancer
  3. Quality of Life and Exercise Needs and Goals
  4. Aerobic and Strength-Training Exercises
  5. Designing Exercise Programs for People With Cancer
  6. Exercise and Older Patients With Cancer
  7. Exercise and Cancer Prevention
  8. References
Source: Oncology Nursing Society