How our research could help reduce fatigue for those living with cancer

Lucy is World Cancer Research Fund's Press and Communications Officer

Cancer-related fatigue can significantly reduce the quality of life for those living with cancer.

It can interfere with every aspect of life. Even sleep can’t give the patient more energy. It’s surprisingly common and can be incredibly distressing.

We’re funding a number of research studies on how cancer-related fatigue can be prevented.

Previous research has suggested that exercise could help improve fatigue symptoms. However, we know little about how much exercise patients would need to do to feel better and how much they would physically be able to do.

Motivational and behavioural support

Prof Karin Nordin in Sweden is studying the process by which cancer-related fatigue is brought about.

She’s also investigating the effects of different exercise programmes, sometimes with motivational and behavioural support, on fatigue, quality of life and disease outcome.

Her research involves 600 newly-diagnosed breast, colorectal and prostate cancer patients undergoing treatment, who are randomly allocated to different programmes.

Endurance and strength exercises

Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, Dr Anne May is studying 37 head and neck cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and radiotherapy. All of the patients are doing endurance and strength exercises and will continue the exercises until three weeks after their treatment has finished.

Dr May will measure how closely patients are able to follow the exercise programme along with their fatigue levels and quality of life.

Sedentary behaviour and physical activity

Also in the Netherlands, we’re funding Prof Matty Weijenberg – she’s finding out why bowel cancer survivors who exercise more report less fatigue than those who are less active.

If Prof Weijenberg can discover how sedentary behaviour and physical activity are linked to levels of fatigue, we will get a better understand of the most effective type of exercise for these patients.

Improving quality of life

If beneficial, we hope that these exercise programmes could eventually become part of normal cancer care, improving the quality of life of a large number of patients.

We also know from previous research that being physically active as part of a healthy lifestyle is important for cancer survivors to prevent further cancers as well as other diseases such as diabetes.

Patients who take part in exercise programmes are more likely to exercise regularly after cancer, reducing their risk of many diseases in the long-term.


We look forward to hearing the results of these important studies – keep up to date with our research projects on Twitter and Facebook.


Image: Thinkstock Photos


Lucy Eccles | 02 June 2017