Deterioration in physical activity and function differs according to treatment type in non-small cell lung cancer - future directions for physiotherapy management

Physiotherapy. 2016 Sep;102(3):256-63. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2015 Oct 23.


Objectives: To investigate in non-surgically and surgically treated non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): (1) changes in physical activity, function, health-related quality of life (HRQoL) and symptoms after diagnosis; and (2) the association between physical activity and outcomes.

Design: Prospective observational study.

Setting: Three acute tertiary hospitals.

Participants: Sixty-nine individuals (43 male, median [IQR] age 68 [61 to 74] years) with stage I-IV NSCLC.

Main outcome measures: The primary outcome (Physical Activity Scale for the Elderly) and secondary outcome (six-minute walk test and questionnaires assessing HRQoL, function, symptoms, mood) were measured at diagnosis (pre-treatment), and eight to ten weeks post-diagnosis (post-operative and/or during chemotherapy/radiotherapy).

Results: Individuals treated surgically (n=27) experienced a deterioration in physical activity levels (baseline median [IQR]=74 [51 to 135]; follow-up median [IQR]=29 [24 to 73]; median difference=45, effect size=0.3). At follow-up physical activity was inversely related to depression, pain and appetite loss (rho>0.5, p<0.05). In contrast non-surgical individuals (n=42) did not experience a change in physical activity, however did experience deterioration in function, functional capacity, global HRQoL, fatigue and dyspnoea. Physical activity levels were low in this group and at follow-up the strongest relationships with physical activity levels were global HRQoL, function, fatigue and mood (inverse, rho>0.5, p<0.05).

Conclusions: Surgically treated individuals experienced a reduction in physical activity levels after diagnosis, which was not seen in the non-surgical group. Lower physical activity levels were associated with poorer outcomes, particularly in non-surgically treated individuals. Further research is required to establish the optimal intervention to improve physical activity levels in these cohorts.

Keywords: Function; Health-related quality of life; Lung neoplasms; Non-small cell lung cancer; Physical activity; Physiotherapy.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / physiopathology*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / therapy*
  • Disability Evaluation*
  • Exercise Test
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality of Life
  • Surveys and Questionnaires