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Cancer remains a substantial health burden globally. While there are still high death rates associated with cancer, there are many more survivors as a result of early detection and more effective treatment.

Cancer survivors can experience a lower quality of life, both physically and psychologically, after diagnosis and treatment. With better prognosis and longer survival times more common in people with cancer nowadays, improved quality of life is an increasingly important goal for cancer survivors.

Physical activity has increasingly been recommended as an intervention to assist cancer survivors address both the physical and psychological effects of treatment and evidence suggests it may also assist in improving quality of life.

The results from a number of studies are mixed, and suggest that the relationship between physical activity and quality of life in cancer survivors may vary depending on the type of cancer they had.

Researchers investigated the association between quality of life and physical activity in survivors of a range of cancers including lung, cervical, ovarian, endometrial, colorectal and liver cancers.

Participants were cancer survivors in Shanghai, China. They all had a clinical diagnosis of one of the previously mentioned cancers. Participants were asked to report the quantity and frequency of their physical activity undertakings and quality of life was measured through a validated tool.

Survivors of different types of cancer had different reported outcomes for various quality of life measures.

Lung cancer survivors reported higher scores for dyspnoea (breathlessness) and worse physical functioning. Colorectal cancer survivors reported the most severe diarrhoea. Liver cancer survivors reported the highest level of appetite loss, financial difficulties and the lowest level of emotional wellbeing.

The association between physical activity and quality of life in cancer survivors was mixed in this study. In general, people undertaking physical activity reported higher scores for the functional scales and their global health status compared to people with no physical activity.

Survivors who took physical activity generally also reported lower scores on the symptom scale. The relationship between frequency of physical activity and quality of life with regards to different cancer types remained largely uncertain in this study.

Implications

While the results of this study were not dramatic there was a trend linking exercise with improved wellbeing. This is supported in particular to research in women with breast cancer where physical activity was linked to better outcomes.

Last Reviewed: 27/11/2019

Norman Swan Medical Communications



References

Tang, F et al. (2016). Quality of Life and Its Association with Physical Activity among Different Types of Cancer Survivors. PLOS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0164971.