Researchers Assess Strategies to Implement Exercise Intervention in Childhood Cancer Survivors

A study examined patterns and desires regarding exercise among childhood cancer survivors in order to glean a better understanding of how to implement an exercise intervention in this population.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes physical activity may be more difficult for cancer survivors than the general population, the study authors explained, due to lingering treatment side effects, fatigue, and reduced muscle strength, not to mention emotional challenges. For childhood cancer survivors, this may be complicated further by “[a] lack of resources, negative thoughts and feelings toward a healthy lifestyle, and negative environmental and social influences.”

The present study included 20 childhood cancer survivors who were followed at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Eligibility criteria included:

  • Diagnosed with cancer at age ≤21 years
  • Being more than five years past their original diagnosis
  • Have completed active cancer therapy
  • Have anticipated life expectancy >12 months

Participants took part in a 20-25 minute recorded interview that questioned their current duration, frequency, and types of physical activity, and if they would be interested in participating in or have preferences regarding a future structured exercise program.

Eleven of the participants were female, and nine were male, and the mean age was 35 years (range, 21-52 years). Although half of participants said that they took part in regular physical activity, there were significant variations in the frequency, intensity, and duration of this physical activity. Most participants expressed interest in a structured exercise intervention (85%), with significant interest in walking (76%), bicycling (53%), and weight training (53%); 94% of participants were in strong favor of a program that incorporated aerobic and resistance exercise. Additionally, 95% of participants said that nutrition and diet information should be incorporated into the intervention.

Participants also shared factors that may hinder them from participating in an exercise intervention; the three categories that most answers fell into were time/schedule, distance/location, and physical limitations. Nearly all participants (80%) said that a lack of time and scheduling conflicts were significant barriers.

The study was published in BMC Cancer.

“While multiple studies have established the importance of physical activity among childhood cancer survivors, the feasibility and implementation of programs for this purpose remains a challenge. Understanding current practices, barriers to participation, and survivor preferences will help to improve the quality, relevance and implementation of future exercise programs,” the researchers concluded.