Psychological interventions and exercise were more effective at improving cancer-related fatigue than certain medications, according to a meta-analysis published in JAMA Oncology.1

“If a cancer patient is having trouble with fatigue, rather than looking for extra cups of coffee, a nap, or a pharmaceutical solution, consider a 15-minute walk. It’s a really simple concept but it’s very hard for patients and the medical community to wrap their heads around it because these interventions have not been front-and-center in the past. Our research gives clinicians a valuable asset to alleviate cancer-related fatigue,” Karen Mustian, PhD, MPPH, of the Department of Surgery at Wilmot Cancer Institute at the University of Rochester in New York, said in a news release.2

Cancer-related fatigue (CRF) during and after cancer treatment is a common complaint by patients with cancer. Exercise, psychological interventions, and pharmaceutical interventions are often recommended.

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Mustian and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials to assess the effectiveness of the most commonly prescribed treatments for CRF. A systematic and blinded process was used to independently evaluate the included studies.

The meta-analysis included 113 studies from 1999 to 2016 that involved 11,525 participants with a mean age of 54 years. The results indicated that exercise (P <.001), psychological (P <.001), and exercise with psychological interventions (P <.001) improved CRF during and after cancer treatment. Interestingly, pharmaceutical interventions were not tied to improved CRF during and after treatment P =.05). 

The effectiveness of the treatment for CRF was associated with several factors including cancer stage, fatigue measures, and baseline treatment status.1

“The literature bears out that these drugs don’t work very well although they are continually prescribed. Cancer patients already take a lot of medications and they all come with risks and side effects. So any time you can subtract a pharmaceutical from the picture it usually benefits patients,” Mustian continued in the statement. 2


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]

2. Research shows exercise is a boon for cancer patients [news release]. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Medical Center; March 02, 2017. Accessed March 24, 2017.