Barriers and enablers to participation in physical activity among women diagnosed with ovarian cancer

Kellie Toohey, Catherine Paterson, Celeste Coltman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death among gynecological cancers, with low survival rates and a high disease burden. Despite the known benefits, most women reduce their participation in physical activity following diagnosis. Little is known about ovarian cancer survivors’ experiences of physical activity. The primary aim of this study was to explore the barriers and enablers to participation in physical activity among women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

A qualitative descriptive study design was conducted via semi-structured interviews with nine women diagnosed with ovarian cancer (stages I–IV; 40–77 years). The interviews took place at the participant’s home via telephone or online video conferencing software Coviu©. An inductive thematic approach was used. The organization and coding of data were completed using NVivo computer software (Version 12.6.0, QSR International Pty Ltd.). Weekly discussions occurred among the research team to ensure that themes accurately represented participant views. The consolidated criteria for reporting qualitative studies (COREQ) 32-item checklist were followed.

The main barriers to physical activity participation that emerged were (i) the lack of referral to an exercise professional within the multidisciplinary cancer team, (ii) fear of injury after surgery and during treatment, and (iii) treatment-related side effects. However, many of the participants perceived benefits of physical activity related to (i) enhanced physical and psychological health, (ii) improved cancer outcomes, and (iii) social benefits as key enablers of physical activity participation.

Physical activity interventions for women with ovarian cancer should address the modifiable barriers identified in this study. A key focus should be to streamline timely referral pathways within the multidisciplinary team, including exercise professionals, dietitians, psychologists, and specialists nurses following a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Further research and service development are needed to optimize supported self-management through (i) education about the importance of physical activity to both healthcare professionals and women alike, (ii) enhanced symptom management for women, which was identified as a barrier to participation, and (iii) the development of shared care plans and patient center goals to address any fears or concerns.

Implications for cancer survivors
People diagnosed with ovarian cancer have low participation levels of physical activity. Cancer care professionals’ support could increase physical activity uptake and reduce some of the burden of an ovarian cancer diagnosis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Cancer Survivorship
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2023


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