Exercise Therapy and Radiation Therapy for Cancer: A Systematic Review

Nicholas G. Zaorsky, Taylor Allenby, John Lin, Jennifer Rosenberg, Nicole L. Simone, Kathryn H. Schmitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Purpose: Exercise therapy (ET) is shown to improve toxicity and surrogates of survival for patients receiving chemotherapy. Current National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines lack recommendations for concurrent radiation therapy (RT) and ET. The main objective was to determine the impact of concurrent ET + RT with respect to (1) acceptability, feasibility, safety; and (2) to demonstrate how incorporating ET in cancer treatment can enhance patient-reported outcomes (PROs) and physical function—defined as strength or exercise capacity. Methods and Materials: A PICOS/PRISMA selection protocol was used to search PubMed, Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), and Cochrane Review for prospective randomized controlled trials evaluating concurrent ET + RT, including >10 patients and with 1 or more study arms. Acceptability, feasibility, and safety rates were calculated. PROs were assessed with study-specific metrics. Physical function was defined as improvements in strength or range of motion. Statistically significant improvement was defined by P <.05. Results: Twenty-six of 693 screened studies including 1563 patients (831 receiving exercise, 732 controls) with localized breast cancer (67.1% of patients), prostate cancer (27.4%), head and neck cancers (2.8%), and spinal metastases (2.8%) were assessed. Objective 1: Among 3385 patients approached for ET, 1864 (55.1%) accepted the treatment; of those, 1563 patients (83.9%) completed the trials. Objective 2: Statistical improvements were noted in these PROs: quality of life (14 of 15 studies), fatigue (12 of 16 studies), mood/depression (9 of 13), and anxiety (6 of 7). Physical function improved statically in 16 of 16 studies. Conclusions: Combination ET + RT is safe and well-tolerated with improvements in PROs and physical function. Additional studies are needed in patients with metastatic cancers to assess survival and to compare effectiveness of different exercise regimens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)973-983
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 15 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Radiation
  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cancer Research


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