Being regularly active can bring a range of health benefits for people living with and beyond cancer, including improved quality of life and physical function. Being physically active might also reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and of dying from cancer. Because most cancer survivors are not regularly physically active, there is a need to understand how best to promote and sustain physical activity in this population.
The aim of the review
To understand what are the most effective ways to improve and sustain exercise behaviour in people living with and beyond cancer.
We included only studies that compared an exercise intervention with a usual care comparison or ‘waiting list’ control. Only studies that included sedentary people over the age of 18 with the same cancer diagnosis were eligible. Participants must have been allocated to exercise or usual care at random. We searched for evidence from research databases from 1946 to May 2018.
What are the main findings?
We included 23 studies involving 1372 participants in total. Evidence suggests that exercise studies that incorporate an element of supervision can help cancer survivors. However, we still have a poor understanding of how to promote exercise long term (over six months). There is some concern that research is not being reported as clearly as it should be. We found that setting goals, graded physical activity tasks and providing instructions on how to perform the exercises could help people to do beneficial amounts of exercise. In addition, we found some evidence that in people who do meet recommended exercise levels, get fitter for up to six months.
Quality of the evidence
The main problems that we found regarding the quality of studies in this review included: not knowing how study investigators conducted randomisation for the trials and not knowing whether investigators who were doing trial assessments knew to which group the person they were assessing had been randomly assigned. The quality of the evidence from these studies was found to be low due to the majority of the trials often containing a low number of participants.
What are the conclusions?
The main conclusions from this review are that exercise is generally safe for cancer survivors. We have a better understanding of how to encourage cancer survivors to meet current exercise recommendations. However, there is still a lack of evidence of how to encourage exercise in cancer survivors over six months.