Integrative Oncology: Complementary Therapies in Cancer Care

Barrie Cassileth; Marjet Heitzer; Jyothirmai Gubili


Cancer Chemother Rev. 2008;3(4):204-211. 

In This Article

Physical Activity

Because cancer survivors are at increased risk of developing other chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis in addition to secondary tumors, diet and exercise intervention programs have been recently initiated with the goal of improving lifestyle behaviors in cancer patients.[64,65] Exercise guards against loss of muscle mass, which eventually impairs physical performance and diminishes physical and emotional quality of life. Regular exercise helps reduce fatigue and improve stamina, agility, muscle tone, and flexibility. Several studies have assessed the possible benefits of aerobic and resistance exercise programs for cancer patients.

Both aerobic and resistance exercise regimens improved self-esteem as well as physical fitness and body composition in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.[66] In addition, continued exercise further improved their quality of life compared to the usual care group.[67] In prostate cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy, participation in an exercise program improved quality of life and reduced fatigue compared to a control group,[68] and exercise reduced sleep disturbances in older breast cancer patients receiving hormonal therapy.[69]

Recent studies have found that specific benefits may be associated with the type of physical exercise program implemented (i.e. aerobic versus resistance training). For example, progressive resistance exercise training improved shoulder function and pain in head and neck cancer patients who underwent surgical management compared to those in a standardized exercise program.[70] In addition, weight-bearing aerobic exercise limited bone mineral density decline in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy compared to the resistance exercise or usual care groups.[71]

In addition to the short-term benefits of exercise, long-term improvements have also been reported in cancer patients. Benefits from both aerobic and resistance exercise programs were not only maintained after six months, but additional benefits, such as anxiety reduction that were previously absent, emerged.[67]


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