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Exercise Helps Cancer Patients Deal With Fatigue

Exercise Helps Cancer Patients Deal With Fatigue

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  • The drugs used for treating cancer-related fatigue were not effective besides having significant side-effects.
  • Exercise and psychological interventions are effective in reducing cancer-related fatigue during and after cancer treatment.
  • They are found to be significantly better than the available pharmaceutical options.

In order to reduce cancer-related fatigue, exercise and/or psychological therapy has been found to work better than medications.

The findings are according to researchers from Wilmot Cancer Institute.


"If a cancer patient is having trouble with fatigue, rather than looking for extra cups of coffee, a nap, or a pharmaceutical solution, consider a 15-minute walk," said lead author Karen Mustian, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor in the University of Rochester Medical Center Department of Surgery's Cancer Control Program.

"It's a really simple concept but it's very hard for patients and the medical community to wrap their heads around it because these interventions have not been front-and-center in the past," she added. "Our research gives clinicians a valuable asset to alleviate cancer-related fatigue."

Cancer-related fatigue is the most common and troublesome adverse effect experienced by patients during and after cancer treatment. This type of fatigue is different from being chronically tired, Mustian said.

It is a crushing sensation that is not relieved by rest or sleep, and can persist for months or years.

Researchers believe that a chronic state of inflammation induced by the disease or its treatment may be the reason behind this fatigue.

The constant state of fatigue can decrease a patient's chances of survival because it lessens the likelihood of completing medical treatments.

After analyzing the outcomes of 113 unique studies involving more than 11,000 patients that tested various treatments for cancer-related fatigue, researchers reached their conclusion about exercise and psychological interventions.

All of the participants in study suffered from fatigue and nearly half were women with breast cancer. Ten studies focused on other types of cancer and enrolled only men.

Results showed that fatigue was improved by:
  • both aerobic or anaerobic exercise reduced cancer-related fatigue most significantly
  • Psychological interventions, such as therapy designed to provide education, change personal behavior, and adapt the way a person thinks about his or her circumstances also improved fatigue
Studies that delivered a combination of exercise and psychological therapy had mixed results and researchers cannot say for sure what the best method is for combining treatments to make them effective.

The study also proved that showed that drugs tested for treating cancer-related fatigue were not as effective.

"The literature bears out that these drugs don't work very well although they are continually prescribed," Mustian said. "Cancer patients already take a lot of medications and they all come with risks and side effects. So any time you can subtract a pharmaceutical from the picture it usually benefits patients."

The research team also investigates the biological pathways that exercise impacts in cancer patients.

The study is published in JAMA Oncology.


  1. Karen Mustian et al. Comparison of Pharmaceutical, Psychological, and Exercise Treatments for Cancer-Related Fatigue. JAMA Oncology; (2017) doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.6914

Source: Medindia

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