Exercise may improve quality of life for people during and after cancer treatment

Good news is always welcome and there seems to be a fair bit of it in our neck of the woods at the moment. Today’s good news comes from the Cochrane Collaboration, with two new systematic reviews which indicate that exercise may improve quality of life both during and after cancer treatment. We know that having cancer and undergoing treatment for it takes its toll on people’s mental health and on their bodies, and also that exercise has the potential to improve everyone’s wellbeing, so there is a lot of interest in whether exercise can help people with cancer.

Exercise interventions for adults who were having treatment for different types of cancer or scheduled for active treatment and for those who had finished cancer treatment were examined in separate reviews, by the same team. The first review included 56 randomised trials with 4,826 people having cancer treatment and the second included 40 trials with 3,694 people who had finished cancer treatment. People who were terminally ill were excluded. Here’s what they found:

  • Exercise interventions had a positive impact on health-related quality of life (HRQL) overall and in particular aspects of HRQL, including social functioning, tiredness and emotional health
  • Exercise had a positive effect on physical functioning in people undergoing treatment but not in those who had completed treatment
  • People undergoing breast cancer treatment benefitted more from exercise than people being treated for other cancers in its effect on anxiety in but less in other aspects of HRQL such as depression, tiredness and sleep disturbance
  • No effect was seen on mood, the ability to think clearly or spiritual health

But:

  • The studies were at high risk of bias so results should be interpreted with caution
  • Exercise programmes varied in length, intensity and type of exercise. Exercise types included walking, cycling, yoga, Qigong, resistance training and strength training
  • Studies also varied in how health-related quality of life was measured

Lead author Shiraz Mishra, of the Prevention Research Center at the University of New Mexico, emphasised that, whilst these reviews indicate that exercise interventions may offer improvements in quality of life for people during and after cancer treatment “we need to treat these findings with caution… and to understand from future trials how to maintain the positive impacts of exercise in the longer term and whether there are particular types of exercise that are suited to particular types of cancer”.

As so often, problems with the quality of included studies meant the reviewers couldn’t be confident about the review’s findings, but it looks like this is worth future investigation.

 Links:

Mishra  SI, Scherer  RW, Snyder  C, Geigle  PM, Berlanstein  DR, Topaloglu  O. Exercise interventions on health-related quality of life for people with cancer during active treatment. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews  2012, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD008465. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD008465.pub2. Cochrane summary and podcast of this review.

Mishra  SI, Scherer  RW, Geigle  PM, Berlanstein  DR, Topaloglu  O, Gotay  CC, Snyder  C. Exercise interventions on health-related quality of life for cancer survivors. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews  2012, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD007566. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007566.pub2. Cochrane summary and podcast of this review.

 

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Sarah Chapman

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My name is Sarah Chapman. I have worked on systematic reviews and other types of research in many areas of health for the past 17 years, for the Cochrane Collaboration and for several UK higher education institutions including the University of Oxford and the Royal College of Nursing Institute. I also have a background in nursing and in the study of the History of Medicine.

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