Galvão, D. A., & Newton, R. U. (2005). Review of exercise intervention studies in cancer patients. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 23, 899–909.

Search Strategy

The MEDLINE database was searched through June 2004 to identify experimental and quasiexperimental studies of exercise (cardiovascular and/or resistance training) during and following cancer treatment.

Literature Evaluated

Twenty-six published studies, reflecting 18 experimental or quasiexperimental trials of exercise during cancer treatment and eight studies of exercise after cancer treatment, were identified. Of the 18 trials during treatment, 14 used some type of cardiovascular training; two used mixed training with cardiovascular, resistance, and flexibility exercise; and two applied a structured resistance training program. Of the eight trials of exercise after cancer treatment, all used cardiovascular or cardiovascular plus resistance training. The duration of the intervention ranged from two to 28 weeks, and the frequency of the exercise intervention ranged from daily to two times per week.

Outcomes were fatigue, health-related quality of life, symptom distress, psychological distress, body composition, physical exercise capacity (maximal oxygen consumption), immunologic parameters, and muscle strength. Treatment evaluated cardiovascular and/or resistance exercise.

Sample Characteristics

  • Most of the studies were conducted in women with breast cancer or in samples with mixed solid tumors; single studies in patients with prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, and hematologic malignancies were noted.
  • Sample sizes ranged from five to 155 participants.
  • Average participant age ranged from 19 to 77 years.


Five of 18 studies of exercise during cancer treatment specifically found improvements in fatigue, and most of these studies were in women with breast cancer. Of note, a trial of resistance training three times per week in men with prostate cancer undergoing androgen depletion therapy showed improvements in fatigue after a 12-week program. Of the eight studies of exercise following cancer treatment, none reported statistically significant improvements in fatigue, but there were improvements in functional status, quality of life, psychological distress, strength, and capacity.

Nursing Implications

Although recent evidence supports the use of resistance exercise during cancer management as an exercise mode to counteract adverse effects of the disease and treatment, most of the studies were conducted using cardiovascular training. Promising results in terms of fatigue and other outcomes of a short-term resistance exercise program on patients diagnosed with prostate cancer and undertaking androgen-depletion therapy have been reported.

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