Autonomic dysfunction in cancer patients and the influence of exercise: A systematic review

Kacie Ailis Patterson, Kellie Toohey, Stuart Semple, Andrew Mckune

Research output: Contribution to conference (non-published works)Abstractpeer-review


Background: The growing population of cancer survivors are facing new challenges beyond their diagnosis, in relation to cardiovascular health and autonomic dysfunction. Objective: This review aimed to explore autonomic dysfunction and the exercise-related effects on markers of autonomic function. Methods: We conducted a systematic review in accordance with The PRISMA Statement in four databases (-2017): PubMed, SPORTDiscus, Rehabilitation & Sports Medicine Source, CINAHL Plus. The search was limited to human studies in peer-reviewed English language journals. All cancer types and treatments were included provided the study involved a marker of autonomic function (e.g. heart rate variability, HRV, or recovery, HRR) in relation to exercise capacity. Search terms included: cancer, exercise, physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness, aerobic capacity, autonomic nervous system, autonomic dysfunction, neuroimmunomodulation, vagal nerve, heart rate variability, recovery. Results: Eight studies of mixed diagnosis cancer patients were included. The clinical importance of autonomic dysfunction was demonstrated by an evident reduction in HRV, HRR and Composite Autonomic Scoring Scale, at baseline before an exercise intervention and in response to cardiopulmonary exercise testing. Moderate intensity aerobic exercise interventions of two to twelve months were most frequently used and produced significant improvements in autonomic dysfunction. Limitations: Low levels of evidence, relatively small sample sizes and heterogeneity, the presence of confounders and use of observational study designs are the key limitations. Conclusions: Due to the association between having a higher HRV and quicker HRR post-exercise with prolonged survival, sustained exercise participation may be an important goal for improving autonomic function. Further, regular monitoring and measurement of autonomic dysfunction by clinicians may guide interventions to attenuate the adverse effects of cancer.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventResearch to Practice: Exercise & Sports Science Australia’s (ESSA2018) - Brisbane Convention Exhibition Centre, Brisbane, Australia
Duration: 27 Mar 201829 Mar 2018


ConferenceResearch to Practice
Abbreviated titleESSA2018


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