Exercise Guidelines for Cancer Survivors Updated for the First Time in a Decade

A group of researchers from the University of British Columbia has recently developed a new set of exercise guidelines for cancer survivors. This new research recommends specific exercise regimens to address various side effects tethered to cancer treatments and diagnoses, such as fatigue and anxiety. These guidelines were published online in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

These new guidelines suggest that cancer survivors should perform aerobic and resistance training exercises three times a week for roughly 30 minutes each session. The previous guidelines from nearly a decade ago recommended that cancer survivors exercise for 150 minutes a week, meeting the general health guidelines for all Americans.

“Exercise has been regarded as a safe and helpful way for cancer survivors to lessen the impact of cancer treatment on their physical and mental health, but the precise type and amount of exercise to treat the many different health outcomes related to cancer treatment hasn’t been clear,” explained lead author Kristin Campbell, PhD, associate professor at UBC’s department of physical therapy. “In the absence of this information, cancer survivors were advised to strive toward meeting the general public health guidelines for all Americans — an amount of physical activity that may be difficult for people to achieve during or following cancer treatment.”

These recommendations from Campbell and colleagues stem from a comprehensive review and analysis of emerging research regarding exercise in cancer survivors. Over 2,500 randomized controlled trials regarding exercise in cancer survivors have been published since the initial guidelines were published in 2010, a staggering increase of 281%. These UBC researchers decided to leverage this large increase in data regarding cancer survivor exercise to generate an updated set of recommendations.

Two other papers were published this week regarding the role of exercise in cancer prevention and control, all three papers the product of an international roundtable. This collaboration consisted of 40 international, multidisciplinary researchers from different organizations. Together, the team reviewed existing literature to assess exercise’s effect on cancer recovery, management, and prevention.

These three papers provide the most updated, evidence-supported guidelines for exercise implementation into treatment/prevention plans. They also introduce a new initiative led by the American College of Sports Medicine called Moving Through Cancer. This program is designed to help physicians implement these guidelines to help their patients combat cancer through exercise.

Campbell, director of the UBC faculty of medicine’s clinical exercise physiology lab, functioned as the Canadian representative on this roundtable discussion. She worked alongside the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology in this work, which was one of the 17 partner organizations involved.

These new guidelines suggest that exercise is important for the prevention of all cancers, specifically those of the colon, breast, endometrium, kidney, bladder, esophagus and stomach. This research also found that exercise can improve rates of survival in patients with breast, colon, and prostate cancer. Exercise during and after cancer treatments was found to improve symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, depression, quality of life, and physical function without worsening the patient’s swelling.

“The ultimate goal is to help people with cancer live longer and better lives. With these new guidelines and with continued research, we have a real opportunity to continue expanding the integration of exercise medicine into cancer care,” concluded Campbell.