New Exercise Guidelines For Cancer Survivors

There is growing evidence that exercise is a significant part of recovery for the increasing number of cancer survivors worldwide. But how much is required, and what kind of exercise?

A recent research study, undertaken by an international group of experts led by the University of British Columbia, has led to the development of new guidelines for exercise for cancer survivors.

The revised guidelines, published today in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, detail detailed' exercise treatments' to tackle common side effects associated with cancer diagnosis and treatment, such as anxiety and exhaustion.

Generally speaking, the new guidelines prescribe aerobic and strength training for survivors for about 30 minutes per session, three days a week. This is a departure from earlier recommendations, issued almost a decade ago, that urged survivors of cancer to follow the general guidelines for public health for all Americans—150 minutes of exercise a week.

“Exercise has been regarded as a safe and helpful way for cancer survivors to lessen the impact of cancer treatment on their physical and mental health, but the precise type and amount of exercise to treat the many different health outcomes related to cancer treatment hasn’t been clear,” says the paper’s lead author, Dr. Kristin Campbell, associate professor at UBC’s department of physical therapy. “In the absence of this information, cancer survivors were advised to strive toward meeting the general public health guidelines for all Americans — an amount of physical activity that may be difficult for people to achieve during or following cancer treatment.”

The new recommendations are based on a thorough review and examination of the increasing range of scientific evidence in the field. There have been more than 2,500 published randomized controlled exercise trials in cancer survivors since the first guidelines were put forward in 2010, an increase of 281 percent.

The new paper is just one of three papers published today that summarize the findings of an international roundtable investigating the role of exercise in the prevention and control of cancer. The roundtable put together a team of 40 global, multidisciplinary experts from different organizations who carried out a detailed and updated analysis of research on the beneficial effects of exercise in cancer prevention, treatment and recovery.


The three papers together offer new evidence-based guidelines to integrate exercise into prevention and treatment plans and introduce a new Moving Through Cancer program, led by the American College of Sports Medicine, to help physicians adopt such recommendations worldwide.

The new recommendations include:

  • For all adults, exercise is important for cancer prevention and specifically lowers risk of seven common types of cancer: colon, breast, endometrial, kidney, bladder, esophagus and stomach
  • For cancer survivors, incorporate exercise to help improve survival after a diagnosis of breast, colon and prostate cancer
  • Exercising during and after cancer treatment improves fatigue, anxiety, depression, physical function, quality of life and does not exacerbate lymphedema
  • Continue research that will drive the integration of exercise into the standard of care for cancer
  • Translate into practice the increasingly robust evidence base about the positive effects of exercise for cancer patients

Campbell, who is the director of the UBC faculty of medicine’s clinical exercise physiology lab, served as the Canadian representative on the roundtable, working alongside the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, one of 17 partner organizations.

“The ultimate goal is to help people with cancer live longer and better lives. With these new guidelines and with continued research, we have a real opportunity to continue expanding the integration of exercise medicine into cancer care,” says Campbell.


Kerry Blackadar - UBC Faculty of Medicine

Tel: 604-827-2963

New Exercise Guidelines For Cancer Survivors

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