Keep it movin’

Clinical Brief – August 10th

The Brief

Physical exercise can effectively help manage cancer-related fatigue.

In fact, a study found that it’s about three-times more effective than taking meds, making it the most effective of four commonly prescribed treatments.


Fatigue is one of the most common and disabling side effects during and after treatment for cancer. Cancer-related fatigue is so serious that it’s designated a high-priority research area by the National Cancer Institute (aka NCI).

Four most commonly recommended treatments for cancer-related fatigue are physical exercise, psych therapy, a combo of exercise and psych therapy, and meds. But what works best?

In an analysis of 113 trials involving 11k people, physical exercise showed the most benefit for reducing fatigue, especially if it was prescribed for patients receiving primary treatment. It didn’t matter whether the type of exercise was aerobic, resistance training, or anaerobic.

“This meta-analysis is the most comprehensive and rigorous conducted to date”

– Mustian KM, et al.

Psych therapy was about as effective as physical exercise. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, was the most effective form of psych therapy, especially for patients who’ve survived their primary treatment.

A bit surprising though, two good treatments didn’t make one great treatment. The combo of exercise and psych therapy was generally about par with either exercise or psych therapy alone. Of course, the effectiveness of this combination probably depends, by in large, on how they are combined. In other words, more research is needed here.

The least effective treatment of all was medication. By this study’s estimate, physical exercise was about 3x more effective than meds at reducing fatigue.

Bottom line

It may be a bit counter intuitive, but to deal with some of the fatigue cancer treatments can cause, physical exercise during treatment and CBT after treatment may help.

“Exercise may be the most effective treatment for patients receiving primary treatment, whereas psychological and exercise plus psychological interventions may be most effective for survivors who have completed primary treatment.”

– Mustian KM, et al.

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