Cancer survivors who are encouraged to be physically active are fitter and are less likely to be overweight, according to a review of the evidence.

The review was carried out by researchers at the University of Hong Kong and funded by World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF). The results will be presented at the NCRI Cancer Conference in Liverpool today (Tuesday).

The researchers reviewed 31published randomised controlled trials to look at the effect of physical activity interventions – programmes where people are encouraged to be more active – on several factors, including quality of life, and the chances of cancer survival and recurrence.

While there was not enough good quality evidence on the effect of being active on cancer survival and recurrence to draw firm conclusions, the researchers found significant evidence that physical activity interventions led to a lower body mass index (BMI) and to an increase in lean body mass.

The study also found a link between functional capacity – a combination of measures such as strength, stamina and mobility – and physical activity, including better performance in six-minute walking tests.

These results suggest that being physically active following cancer treatment is a good way of maintaining a healthy weight and of maintaining fitness levels. The strength of evidence is quite strong so this gives cancer survivors a good reason to increase their physical activity levels.

Dr Judy Ho, the lead researcher for the project


We recommend cancer survivors are regularly as physically active as their condition allows and this study adds further evidence that this is worth doing. But the lack of quality evidence on whether physical activity affects risk of cancer recurrence highlights the fact that cancer survivors do not have access to the same quality of advice as the rest of the population. This is why there needs to be more research in this area and we have identified it as one of our priority areas. We recently announced plans for the biggest ever review of the evidence on breast cancer survivorship.

Dr Panagiota Mitrou, Deputy Head of Science for WCRF


Cancer survivors sometimes ask what they can do themselves to help manage their condition and improve well-being. Now we have evidence that something as simple and inexpensive as physical activity can have a real benefit.

Dr Jane Cope, Director of the NCRI