Exercise for cancer-related fatigue


Cancer related fatigue (CRF) is a debilitating and distressing side effect of cancer and even cancer treatments. It is the perception of unusual tiredness which negatively impacts function in those previously diagnosed with cancer or current patients. CRF is often not relieved by stress.

Elliot McMillan and Ian J Newhouse, both faculty members in the Kinesiology & Health Science departments at Lakehead University wrote a review paper looking at how exercise can affect cancer related fatigue.

Below are some of the summary points:

  • cancers addressed: breast (majority), prostate, colorectal, acute myelogenous leukemia
  • medium intensity (30-70% of maximum VO2) aerobic activity, ~3 - 7 times/week had a small but significant beneficial effect on CRF
  • resistance training and resistance training combined with aerobic training had a large effect size but did not reach statistical significance.
  • exercise in supervised settings improved CRF but not unsupervised home settings
  • Physical inactivity may lead to on-going decreases in fitness which may worsen CRF

The researchers conclude that: "The results of this study and those of previously published meta-analyses on CRF suggest that exercise does, in fact, have a beneficial effect on the symptoms related to this syndrome... In conclusion, exercise should be considered as a treatment option to manage CRF."

So, if you are an individual going through cancer related fatigue or if you have a patient with this syndrome, it may be worthwhile to consider exercise.


McMillan, E and Newhouse, I. Exercise is an effective treatment modality for reducing cancer-related fatigue and improving physical capacity in cancer patients and survivors: a meta-analysis. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. Vol 36, 2011.