Prehabilitation in radiation therapy: a scoping review

Support Care Cancer. 2024 Jan 5;32(1):83. doi: 10.1007/s00520-023-08262-9.


Purpose/objectives: Radiation therapy (RT) is a central component of cancer treatment with survival and long-term quality-of-life benefits across a spectrum of oncologic diagnoses. However, RT has been associated with varying levels of fatigue, pain, weight loss, and changes in mental health both during and post-treatment. Prehabilitation aims to optimize health prior to anti-neoplastic therapy in order to reduce side effects, increase adherence to treatment, expedite post-treatment recovery, and improve long-term outcomes. Though prehabilitation has been studied in those undergoing cancer-related surgery, literature on prehabilitation in individuals undergoing RT has not been comprehensively explored. Thus, this scoping review aims to summarize the existing literature focused on prehabilitation interventions for patients receiving RT.

Materials/methods: The PRISMA-ScR checklist for conducting scoping reviews was adopted to identify and evaluate studies investigating the efficacy of prehabilitation before and during RT for cancer over the past 21 years (10/2002-10/2022). A search of prehabilitation and RT was performed to identify studies investigating prehabilitation interventions in adult cancer patients undergoing RT.

Results: A total of 30 articles met inclusion criteria, yielding 3657 total participants. Eighteen (60%) studies were randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with sample sizes ranging from 21 to 221. The most commonly studied populations were patients with head and neck cancer, followed by rectal, breast, and lung cancer. A majority (80%) of studies evaluated one prehabilitation intervention (i.e., unimodal). Targeted physical exercises were the most common intervention, followed by general physical exercises and technology/apps. Adherence/feasibility was the most common primary outcome, representing 30% of studies. All studies reported data on sex, and 5 (17%) reported data on race and/or ethnicity.

Conclusions: Prehabilitation interventions have been successfully implemented in patients with cancer undergoing surgical treatment. Based on limited current literature, prehabilitation appears to have a promising effect in reducing morbidity in adult cancer patients requiring RT. Though our review identified many RCTs, they were frequently small sample trials with primary outcomes focused on feasibility, rather than functional status or quality of life. Thus, there is a need for adequately powered, randomized controlled intervention trials to investigate the efficacy of prehabilitation and maximize the treatment outcomes for patients undergoing RT.

Keywords: Prehabilitation; Pretreatment intervention; Radiation oncology; Radiation therapy; Radiotherapy; Scoping review.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Pain
  • Preoperative Exercise*