Exercise-Based Interventions to Counteract Skeletal Muscle Mass Loss in People with Cancer: Can We Overcome the Odds?

Kelcey A Bland, Imre W K Kouw, Luc J C van Loon, Eva M Zopf, Ciaran M Fairman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Addressing skeletal muscle mass loss is an important focus in oncology research to improve clinical outcomes, including cancer treatment tolerability and survival. Exercise is likely a necessary component of muscle-mass-preserving interventions for people with cancer. However, randomized controlled trials with exercise that include people with cancer with increased susceptibility to more rapid and severe muscle mass loss are limited. The aim of the current review is to highlight features of cancer-related skeletal muscle mass loss, discuss the impact in patients most at risk, and describe the possible role of exercise as a management strategy. We present current gaps within the exercise oncology literature and offer several recommendations for future studies to support research translation, including (1) utilizing accurate and reliable body composition techniques to assess changes in skeletal muscle mass, (2) incorporating comprehensive assessments of patient health status to allow personalized exercise prescription, (3) coupling exercise with robust nutritional recommendations to maximize the impact on skeletal muscle outcomes, and (4) considering key exercise intervention features that may improve exercise efficacy and adherence. Ultimately, the driving forces behind skeletal muscle mass loss are complex and may impede exercise tolerability and efficacy. Our recommendations are intended to foster the design of high-quality patient-centred research studies to determine whether exercise can counteract muscle mass loss in people with cancer and, as such, improve knowledge on this topic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1009-1027
Number of pages19
JournalSports medicine
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022. This is a U.S. government work and not under copyright protection in the U.S.; foreign copyright protection may apply.


  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal/physiology
  • Muscular Diseases
  • Neoplasms/therapy


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