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Physical exercise training interventions for children and young adults during and after treatment for childhood cancer


Braam, K.I., et al

Subject Keywords: To evaluate the effect of a physical exercise training intervention (at home, at a physical therapy centre, or hospital based) on the physical fitness of children with cancer, in comparison with the physical fitness in a care as usual control group
Set: Cancer
Chronic Conditions
Type: Article
Region: International (other)

Childhood cancer is much less common than adult cancer at around 144 to 148 cases per one million children (Cancer Research UK 2011; National Cancer Institute 2012). An intensive treatment, including combined treatment modalities such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or a combination, is often needed for cure. These treatment modalities are frequently accompanied by adverse events, such as nausea, serious infections, organ damage (heart, lung, kidney, liver), decreased bone density, but also decreased muscle strength and physical fitness.

In the past, children were advised to recover in bed, and to take as much rest as needed. Nowadays, it is considered that too much immobility may result in a further decrease of physical fitness and physical functioning. These adverse effects might be prevented or minimised by introducing a physical exercise training intervention during, or shortly after, childhood cancer treatment.

This review includes four randomised controlled trials and one clinical controlled trial that evaluated the effects of a physical exercise training programme in children during cancer treatment. Childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is the most common type of childhood cancer. For that reason, researchers often focus on this type of cancer. In total 131 participants with ALL were included in the analysis. The results of the review show that physical exercise training interventions can be performed in children with this type of cancer and that there are some small benefits on body composition (percentage of fat mass, muscles, and bones), flexibility, and cardiorespiratory fitness (endurance capacity). However, the evidence for a benefit on physical fitness of these interventions is limited due to methodological limitations of the included studies. More studies assessing the effects of exercise on body composition, muscle functioning, daily activity, psychological functioning, or a combination of these, are needed. Furthermore, the current findings do not provide enough evidence to identify the optimal physical exercise training programme for children with cancer, neither do they provide information on the characteristics of people who will, or will not, benefit from such a programme. These important issues still need to be clarified.



Rights: © The Cochrane Collaboration
Suggested citation:

Braam, K.I., et al. (2013) Physical exercise training interventions for children and young adults during and after treatment for childhood cancer [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 21st May 2018].


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