A recent meta-analysis examining what treatments improve cancer-related fatigue indicates exercise, psychological interventions, and exercise-psychological interventions improve this adverse effect. Furthermore, pharmaceuticals do not improve cancer-related fatigue.1

Cancer-related fatigue can diminish quality of life for patients with cancer and decrease their ability to complete medical therapies.

This meta-analysis, published in JAMA Oncology, analyzed results from 113 randomized clinical trials that included 11,525 total participants. In total, 53 of the trials (46.9%) were performed among women with breast cancer.

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Data from the analyzed trials were published between January 1999 and May 2016 and were of good quality with mean Physiotherapy Evidence-Based Database scale scores of 8.2.

Exercise (weighted effect size (WES), 0.30; 95% CI, 0.25-0.36; P <.001), psychological (WES, 0.27; 95% CI, 0.21-0.33; P <.001), and exercise plus psychological interventions (WES, 0.26; 95% CI, 0.13-0.38; P <.001) improved cancer-related fatigue during and after primary therapy. Pharmaceutical interventions, however, did not improve cancer-related fatigue (WES, 0.09; 95% CI, 0.00-0.19; P =.05)

Although more research is needed to elucidate the efficacy of interventions combining psychological and exercise interventions, the researchers suggest that exercise or psychological interventions should be used as first-line treatments for cancer-related fatigue.


1. Mustian KM, Alfano CM, Heckler C, et al. Comparison of pharmaceutical, psychological, and exercise treatments for cancer-related fatigue: a meta-analysis. JAMA Oncol. 2017 Mar 2. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2016.6914 [Epub ahead of print]