Last Updated: 2008-04-22 17:34:48 -0400 (Reuters Health)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Exercise appears to be beneficial for patients with cancer-related fatigue, both during and after treatment, according to the results of an extensive literature review and meta-analysis conducted by UK researchers.

Nearly all cancer patients experience fatigue, Dr. Fiona Cramp and colleagues note in their paper, published online April 15th in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. According to guidelines from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, treatable factors that may be related to cancer-related fatigue, such as pain, emotional distress, sleep disturbance, anemia, nutrition, activity level, and comorbidities, should be identified and treated.

However, there is no consensus regarding the effect of exercise on cancer-related fatigue once treatable causes have been addressed.

Dr. Cramp, of the University of the West of England in Bristol, UK, and colleagues searched the medical literature for randomized controlled trials that evaluated the effect of exercise on cancer-related fatigue. They identified 28 studies involving 2083 participants. More than half of the studies involved breast cancer patients. Most interventions comprised exercise undertaken two or three times per week at moderate intensity.

"Statistically significant improvements in fatigue were identified following an exercise programme carried out either during cancer therapy or following cancer therapy," the authors report.

However, they note that quality of studies was variable and that studies exhibited considerable clinical and statistical heterogeneity.

Dr. Cramp’s team recommends that exercise be considered as one of several components of the management strategy for cancer-related fatigue, which may also include other nonpharmacologic interventions such as psychosocial therapies, stress management, nutrition therapy and sleep therapy.

Long-term studies among patients with different cancer diagnoses are required, they add, to determine the optimal type, intensity, and timing of exercise interventions.

Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008;2.

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