Efficacy of Exercise Therapy on Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Patients With Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

J Clin Oncol. 2018 Aug 1;36(22):2297-2305. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2017.77.5809. Epub 2018 Jun 12.


Purpose To evaluate the effects of exercise therapy on cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) among patients with adult-onset cancer. Secondary objectives were to evaluate treatment effect modifiers, safety, and fidelity. Methods A systematic search of PubMed, Embase, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, and the Cochrane Library was conducted to identify RCTs that compared exercise therapy to a nonexercise control group. The primary end point was change in CRF as evaluated by peak oxygen consumption (VO2peak; in mL O2 × kg-1 × min-1) from baseline to postintervention. Subgroup analyses evaluated whether treatment effects differed as a function of exercise prescription (ie, modality, schedule, length, supervision), study characteristics (ie, intervention timing, primary cancer site), and publication year. Safety was defined as report of any adverse event (AE); fidelity was evaluated by rates of attendance, adherence, and loss to follow-up. Results Forty-eight unique RCTs that represented 3,632 patients (mean standard deviation age, 55 ± 7.5 years; 68% women); 1,990 (55%) and 1,642 (45%) allocated to exercise therapy and control/usual care groups, respectively, were evaluated. Exercise therapy was associated with a significant increase in CRF (+2.80 mL O2 × kg-1 × min-1) compared with no change (+0.02 mL O2 × kg-1 × min-1) in the control group (weighted mean differences, +2.13 mL O2 × kg-1 × min-1; 95% CI, 1.58 to 2.67; I2, 20.6; P < .001). No statistical significant differences were observed on the basis of any treatment effect modifiers. Thirty trials (63%) monitored AEs; a total of 44 AEs were reported. The mean standard deviation loss to follow-up, attendance, and adherence rates were 11% ± 13%, 84% ± 12%, and 88% ± 32%, respectively. Conclusion Exercise therapy is an effective adjunctive therapy to improve CRF in patients with cancer. Our findings support the recommendation of exercise therapy for patients with adult-onset cancer.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiorespiratory Fitness*
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic