A recent meta-analysis published in JAMA Oncology suggests that exercise and/or behavioural and educational therapy may be more effective than prescription drugs for dealing with cancer-related fatigue.

The meta-analysis looked at 113 past studies that included 11,525 adult cancer patients, almost half of which were breast cancer patients. The analysis excluded studies that looked at complementary therapies, but included alternative exercise treatments, such as yoga or tai chi. The impact of 4 different treatment approaches was assessed:

  • Exercise alone
  • Mental health interventions/psychological therapies
  • A combination of both exercise and psychological therapy
  • Prescription drugs, including stimulants.


All 4 treatments improved fatigue, with exercise therapy resulting in the best outcomes. However, psychological therapies produced similarly positive results, as did treatments that integrated exercise with mental health interventions.

“Exercise and psychological interventions are effective for reducing cancer-related fatigue during and after cancer treatment, and they are significantly better than the available pharmaceutical options,” the authors write. “Clinicians should prescribe exercise or psychological interventions as first-line treatments for cancer-related fatigue.”

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