Progressive resistance training rebuilds lean body mass in head and neck cancer patients after radiotherapy--results from the randomized DAHANCA 25B trial

Radiother Oncol. 2013 Aug;108(2):314-9. doi: 10.1016/j.radonc.2013.07.002. Epub 2013 Aug 6.


Purpose: The critical weight loss observed in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) patients following radiotherapy is mainly due to loss of lean body mass. This is associated with decreases in muscle strength, functional performance and Quality of Life (QoL). The present study investigated the effect of progressive resistance training (PRT) on lean body mass, muscle strength and functional performance in HNSCC patients following radiotherapy.

Patients and methods: Following radiotherapy HNSCC patients were randomized into two groups: Early Exercise (EE, n=20) initiated 12 weeks of PRT followed by 12 weeks of self-chosen physical activity. Delayed Exercise (DE, n=21) initiated 12 weeks of self-chosen physical activity followed by 12 weeks of PRT. Lean body mass, muscle strength, functional performance and QoL were evaluated at baseline and after week 12 and 24.

Results: In the first 12 weeks lean body mass increased by 4.3% in EE after PRT and in the last 12 weeks by 4.2% in DE after PRT. These increases were significantly larger than the changes after self-chosen physical activity (p ≤ 0.005). Regardless of PRT start-up time, the odds ratio of increasing lean body mass by more than 4% after PRT was 6.26 (p<0.05). PRT significantly increased muscle strength, whereas functional performance increased significantly more than after self-chosen physical activity only after delayed onset of PRT. Overall QoL improved significantly more in EE than DE from baseline to week 12.

Conclusion: PRT effectively increased lean body mass and muscle strength in HNSCC patients following radiotherapy, irrespectively of early or delayed start-up.

Keywords: Exercise; Head and neck cancer; Muscle function; Muscle mass.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase III
  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Body Composition
  • Body Mass Index
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / radiotherapy*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / rehabilitation*
  • Exercise Therapy / methods
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / rehabilitation*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Strength / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Quality of Life
  • Resistance Training / methods*
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck
  • Time Factors
  • Weight Loss