Evidence Summary

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In people who have cancer, exercise therapy improves cardiorespiratory fitness

Scott JM, Zabor EC, Schwitzer E, et al. Efficacy of Exercise Therapy on Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Patients With Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Clin Oncol. 2018;36:2297-2305.

Review question

In people who have cancer that began during adulthood, does exercise therapy improve cardiorespiratory fitness?


Treatments for cancer can reduce a person’s cardiorespiratory fitness, even after the treatment is finished. Poor cardiorespiratory fitness can result in poor health-related quality of life and increase the risk of death over time. It is not known whether exercise therapy can improve cardiorespiratory fitness in people who have had treatment for cancer.

How the review was done

The researchers did a systematic review based on studies available up to February 2018.

They found 48 randomized controlled trials with 3,632 people.

The key features of the studies were:

  • people were mostly women (68%), average age 55 years, who had breast, prostate, lung, blood, colorectal, gastrointestinal, or other cancer;
  • exercise therapy was done before surgery, or during or after primary adjuvant treatment;
  • type of exercise therapy was aerobic (56% of studies), resistance (6%), or aerobic and resistance (38%); and
  • exercise therapy was compared with no exercise.

What the researchers found

Exercise therapy improved cardiorespiratory fitness compared with no exercise.


In people who have cancer that began during adulthood, exercise therapy improves cardiorespiratory fitness.

Exercise therapy vs no exercise in people with cancer

Effects of exercise therapy vs no exercise

Number of trials (and people)

Peak oxygen consumption (a measure of respiratory fitness) was improved by a small amount.

48 trials (3,394 people)


Related Topics


Related to the stomach and the intestines (bowels).
Randomized controlled trials
Studies where people are assigned to one of the treatments purely by chance.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

Related Web Resources

  • Breast cancer: Risks and benefits, age 50-69

    Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care
    Your risk of dying from breast cancer is slightly reduced if you have regular screening. However, regular screening increases your chance of a false positive result, a biopsy and having part or all of a breast removed unnecessarily.
  • Breast cancer: Patient algorithm

    Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care
    The Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care recommends women between 50 and 74 years old who are not at high risk get screened for breast cancer every 2 to 3 years. Talk to your doctor about screening options if you are at high risk or over 74 years old.
  • Breast cancer: Patient FAQ

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    This resource includes frequently asked questions about breast cancer, including: Who is considered high risk? What are the harms associated with mammography? and Why is routine screening NOT recommended for women 40-49 years?
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