Combating cancer-related fatigue: effective exercise strategies for patients | The Rehab Centre
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Combating cancer-related fatigue: effective exercise strategies for patients

28th Aug, 2023

Introduction

Cancer-related fatigue is a distressing and prevalent side effect experienced by many cancer patients during and after treatment. In 2020, cancer accounted for 26 million new cases and 9.96 million deaths worldwide, making it a leading cause of mortality in various countries. Despite significant advancements in cancer diagnosis and treatment, the quality of life for cancer patients remains a challenge due to cancer-related fatigue. This article aims to shed light on cancer-related fatigue, its impact on patients, and the potential benefits of exercise interventions in managing this condition.

Key Takeaway Message

  • Cancer-related fatigue is a persistent and overwhelming physical, emotional, and cognitive tiredness experienced by cancer patients, often disproportionate to recent activities and treatment.
  • Non-pharmacological interventions, such as exercise and psychosocial support, have shown promise in managing cancer-related fatigue.
  • Among various exercise interventions, combined aerobic and resistance exercise emerges as the most effective strategy for alleviating cancer-related fatigue.

What is cancer-related fatigue?

Cancer-related fatigue is a debilitating symptom experienced by cancer patients, often described as an extreme and prolonged state of physical, emotional, and cognitive exhaustion. It can persist even after rest and sleep and significantly impacts a patient’s quality of life. The causes of cancer-related fatigue are complex and may include cancer treatment (chemotherapy, radiation therapy), anaemia, pain, emotional distress, sleep disturbances, and physical inactivity. Fatigue can occur at any stage of cancer and may persist for years after treatment completion.

Exercise for cancer-related fatigue

Numerous studies have demonstrated the positive impact of exercise interventions on cancer-related fatigue. Exercise can improve patients’ aerobic capacity, muscle strength, and body composition, reduce fatigue, and enhance overall quality of life. The following exercise interventions have shown promise in managing cancer-related fatigue:

  1. Combined aerobic and resistance exercise: This comprehensive approach involves both aerobic activities (e.g., walking, cycling) and resistance training (e.g., weight lifting). It has been found to be particularly effective in improving physical fitness, energy levels, and reducing fatigue in cancer patients.
  2. Yoga: As a mind-body exercise, yoga has shown potential in reducing proinflammatory cytokines, restoring hormonal balance, and alleviating cancer-related fatigue. It also helps improve muscle strength and reduce musculoskeletal symptoms.
  3. Regular physical activity: Encouraging patients to maintain their pre-treatment level of physical activity, if feasible, can also be beneficial in managing fatigue, especially for patients who are unable to participate in structured exercise interventions.

Clinical implications for Physiotherapists

Therapists and healthcare professionals should consider exercise interventions as a valuable tool in managing cancer-related fatigue. They can tailor exercise programs based on patients’ individual characteristics, cancer stage, physical fitness, and treatment situation. Combining aerobic and resistance exercises appears to yield the most significant benefits, but therapists should also consider other exercise modalities like yoga and regular physical activity, depending on the patient’s preferences and capabilities.

Empowering you with knowledge

You can take an active role in managing cancer-related fatigue by staying informed about the benefits of exercise interventions. Regular exercise, as advised by healthcare professionals, can contribute to improved physical and emotional well-being, reduced fatigue, and an enhanced quality of life. You should discuss exercise options with your healthcare team and consider integrating appropriate activities into your daily routine.

Conclusion

Cancer-related fatigue is a challenging and prevalent issue faced by cancer patients worldwide. While medical advancements have prolonged survival, improving quality of life remains a significant challenge. Exercise interventions, particularly combined aerobic and resistance exercise, yoga, and regular physical activity, have shown promise in managing cancer-related fatigue during and after treatment. Therapists should consider individual patient characteristics when designing exercise programs, and you should actively engage with your healthcare team to explore exercise options. With more research and understanding, exercise interventions hold the potential to improve the lives of cancer patients, helping them combat cancer-related fatigue and lead healthier, more active lives.

Contact us today to find out how our therapist is able to help you manage your cancer-related fatigue! 

Ref: Which Exercise Approaches Work for Relieving Cancer-Related Fatigue? A Network Meta-analysis. Dong B et al. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2023;53(6):343-352.

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