Physical Activity Levels in People with Cancer Undergoing Chemotherapy: A Systematic Review

Rebecca Cesnik, Kellie Toohey, Nicole Freene, Brea Kunstler, Stuart Semple

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Physical activity (PA) has been shown to improve chemotherapy side effects, survival rates and treatment adherence in people with cancer. This review aimed to identify whether people undergoing chemotherapy in different exercise interventions meet PA guidelines during chemotherapy.

Data Sources
Databases searched were CINAHL complete, PubMed, Cochrane Library, EMBASE, AMED, Joanna Briggs Institute, OVID MEDLINE, and Google Scholar. Eligibility and risk-of-bias were reviewed by two authors. PROSPERO registration: CRD42018093839.

Thirty-three studies were eligible (14 randomized controlled trials, six pre-post, and 13 cross-sectional studies), which included 2,722 people with cancer undergoing chemotherapy. Studies (n = 11/13) found PA interventions successfully increased or maintained PA participation levels, whereas PA declined without intervention. This review has identified that due to limited evidence it is not possible to determine the most appropriate intervention to improve PA for people undergoing chemotherapy. Despite the well-documented benefits of PA, most people undergoing chemotherapy do not achieve the PA guidelines. Clinicians should be aware that during treatment, participants may not meet PA guidelines even if they participate in an intervention. However, interventions may prevent PA levels from declining. Further research is required to determine the most effective approaches to increase PA levels while undergoing chemotherapy.

Implications for Nursing Practice
Nurses are well placed to have conversations with patients undergoing chemotherapy regarding PA levels. PA should be considered as part of a treatment regimen. Tailored advice must be provided aiming to improve health outcomes. Referral to an exercise professional is best practice to improve the uptake of PA.
Original languageEnglish
Article number151435
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalSeminars in Oncology Nursing
Issue number4
Early online date30 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


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