Standard Article

Cancer, Physical Activity, and Exercise

  1. Justin C. Brown1,
  2. Kerri Winters-Stone2,
  3. Augustine Lee1,
  4. Kathryn H. Schmitz1

Published Online: 1 OCT 2012

DOI: 10.1002/cphy.c120005

Comprehensive Physiology

Comprehensive Physiology

How to Cite

Brown, J. C., Winters-Stone, K., Lee, A. and Schmitz, K. H. 2012. Cancer, Physical Activity, and Exercise. Comprehensive Physiology. 2:2775–2809.

Author Information

  1. 1

    University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  2. 2

    School of Nursing, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 OCT 2012


This review examines the relationship between physical activity and cancer along the cancer continuum, and serves as a synthesis of systematic and meta-analytic reviews conducted to date. There exists a large body of epidemiologic evidence that conclude those who participate in higher levels of physical activity have a reduced likelihood of developing a variety of cancers compared to those who engage in lower levels of physical activity. Despite this observational evidence, the causal pathway underlying the association between participation in physical activity and cancer risk reduction remains unclear. Physical activity is also a useful adjunct to improve the deleterious sequelae experienced during cancer treatment. These deleterious sequelae may include fatigue, muscular weakness, deteriorated functional capacity, and many others. The benefits of physical activity during cancer treatment are similar to those experienced after treatment. Despite the growing volume of literature examining physical activity and cancer across the cancer continuum, a number of research gaps exist. There is little evidence on the safety of physical activity among all cancer survivors, as most trials have selectively recruited participants. The specific dose of exercise needed to optimize primary cancer prevention or symptom control during and after cancer treatment remains to be elucidated. © 2012 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 2:2775-2809, 2012.