Cancer, physical activity, and exercise

Compr Physiol. 2012 Oct;2(4):2775-809. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c120005.


This review examines the relationship between physical activity and cancer along the cancer continuum, and serves as a synthesis of systematic and meta-analytic reviews conducted to date. There exists a large body of epidemiologic evidence that conclude those who participate in higher levels of physical activity have a reduced likelihood of developing a variety of cancers compared to those who engage in lower levels of physical activity. Despite this observational evidence, the causal pathway underlying the association between participation in physical activity and cancer risk reduction remains unclear. Physical activity is also a useful adjunct to improve the deleterious sequelae experienced during cancer treatment. These deleterious sequelae may include fatigue, muscular weakness, deteriorated functional capacity, and many others. The benefits of physical activity during cancer treatment are similar to those experienced after treatment. Despite the growing volume of literature examining physical activity and cancer across the cancer continuum, a number of research gaps exist. There is little evidence on the safety of physical activity among all cancer survivors, as most trials have selectively recruited participants. The specific dose of exercise needed to optimize primary cancer prevention or symptom control during and after cancer treatment remains to be elucidated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Genital Neoplasms, Female / physiopathology
  • Genital Neoplasms, Female / prevention & control
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Neoplasms / rehabilitation
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / prevention & control


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones