Schmidt, M.E., Wiskemann, J., Armbrust, P., Schneeweiss, A., Ulrich, C.M., & Steindorf, K. (2015). Effects of resistance exercise on fatigue and quality of life in breast cancer patients undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Cancer, 137, 471–480. 

DOI Link

Study Purpose

To evaluate the effects of a 12-week resistance training intervention in patients with breast cancer during adjuvant chemotherapy

Intervention Characteristics/Basic Study Process

Patients were randomly assigned to the intervention or attention control group. The control group received a supervised group muscle relaxation program with the same session schedule as the intervention group. The exercise intervention involved the use of eight different machine-based progressive resistance exercises without an aerobic component. Both interventions were provided in group settings for 60 minutes twice weekly. Study measures were obtained at baseline and at the end of the intervention period.

Sample Characteristics

  • N = 95
  • MEAN AGE = 52.7 years (range = 30–71 years)
  • FEMALES: 100%
  • KEY DISEASE CHARACTERISTICS: All participants had breast cancer. The majority of participants had stage 1 or 2 disease. The mean number of days since surgery was 56. All participants were receiving adjuvant chemotherapy.
  • OTHER KEY SAMPLE CHARACTERISTICS: 18% had baseline depression 


  • SITE: Single site  
  • SETTING TYPE: Outpatient  
  • LOCATION: Germany

Phase of Care and Clinical Applications

  • PHASE OF CARE: Active antitumor treatment

Study Design

Randomized, controlled trial

Measurement Instruments/Methods

  • Fatigue Assessment Questionnaire (FAQ)
  • European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer Quality of Life Questionnaire (EORTC QLQ-C30)
  • Center for Epidemiologic Studies (CES-D) for depression
  • Trail Making Test (TMT)


The overall between-group difference in fatigue was –5.8. This difference was not statistically significant. There was no overall effect of the intervention on the affective or cognitive dimensions in the fatigue measure. In a subgroup analysis of women who were not depressed at baseline, the between-group difference was –8.1 (p = –0.039). Fatigue increased in the relaxation group. Cognitive performance on the TMT improved in the exercise group compared to the control group, but the difference was not significant. Depression remained unchanged in both groups.


The findings of this study show that resistance exercise can be helpful in reducing fatigue during adjuvant chemotherapy, particularly in patients who have depressive symptoms. There were no apparent effects of the resistance exercise program on fatigue or cognitive function.


  • Small sample (< 100)
  • Risk of bias (no blinding)
  • Key sample group differences that could influence results
  • Other limitations/explanation: A significantly larger proportion of patients in the exercise group had higher depression scores at baseline (p = 0.0098). This difference may have affected overall findings.

Nursing Implications

Findings showed that resistance exercise reduced fatigue during adjuvant chemotherapy. These effects were more pronounced in women who did not have depressive symptoms at baseline. This points to the potential influence of depression on fatigue and the efficacy of interventions for fatigue. These results suggest the need to ensure the effective management of depressive symptoms to manage fatigue during treatment. The interventions studied here did not show an effect on depression or cognitive function.