Exercise Has Short- and Long-Term Benefits for Cancer Survivors

Brielle Urciuoli

Fatigue is a life-altering and often long-lasting effect that impacts many cancer survivors. And while there is currently no cure for the condition, recent research presented at the 2018 Cancer Survivorship Symposium found that exercise can have both short- and long-term benefits for patients dealing with fatigue.

“Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most distressing side effects of treatment and can often persist many years after treatment,” study author Anne M. May, Ph.D., associate professor at the Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, said in a press cast.

“That is the reason why we studied whether exercise for people during treatment with chemotherapy would prevent patients from developing severe fatigue.”

Researchers from the Netherlands looked at a total of 237 patients with either breast or colorectal cancer undergoing curative chemotherapy and split them up into two groups: 119 patients underwent an 18-week exercise program, while 118 patients served as the control group and just had standard care.

After 18 weeks, patients who were assigned to the exercise intervention group reported lower levels of fatigue.

“We indeed found that exercise during treatment [resulted in] lower fatigue after the intervention, especially compared to our usual care control group,” May said.  

But the benefits did not stop there. In a longer four-year follow-up, the researchers not only wanted to see if exercise continued to benefit survivors, but also if the patients kept up with the exercise regimen. Especially because previous research has shown that exercise can improve outcomes.

“From several observational studies, we know that being physically active after a diagnosis of cancer – be it breast or colon – is associated with better prognosis,” May said.

The four-year follow-up included 128 patients from the study – 70 of which were in the original intervention arm and 58 who were in the control arm. The intervention arm surpassed the average number of minutes per week that survivors engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity. And while the results were not statistically significant, the researchers did see a trend pointing toward survivors who engage in frequent physical activity reporting lower levels of fatigue.

“We think that offering exercise during cancer treatment, including chemotherapy, should be recommended and has beneficial short- and long-term effect effects on health,” May said.
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