Physical activity programming and counseling preferences among cancer survivors: A systematic review

Jaime N. Wong, Edward McAuley, Linda Trinh

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Physical activity (PA) participation and adherence among cancer survivors is low, despite research indicating numerous physical, psychological and emotional health benefits of exercise. Tailoring exercise programs specific to the PA preferences in cancer survivors has merit for increasing PA participation and adherence to accrue these benefits. This systematic review identifies and differentiates PA programming and counseling preferences of adult cancer survivors across various cancer survivor groups. Methods: PubMed, SPORTDiscus, Scopus, PsycINFO, EMBASE, Web of Science and CINAHL were electronically searched (inception to Oct 2017) and articles were identified using PRISMA guidelines. Two reviewers independently assessed identified articles to determine eligibility and then individually performed a quality assessment on all final studies. Extracted and analyzed data included participant characteristics, interest in exercise counseling and programming, as well as specific exercise and counseling preferences (e.g. location, timing, intensity). Results: Forty-one articles were included in this systematic review. Most studies assessed mixed cancer survivor groups or breast cancer survivors. Most cancer survivors felt able and interested in participating in a PA program, though starting a PA program after or before treatment was preferred. Walking was the strongest PA modality preference, and most cancer survivors preferred moderate intensity PA. Cancer survivors also indicated preferences for home-based PA that could take place in the morning. Slight preferences were found towards physical activity counseling delivered by a fitness expert from a cancer center. Both quantitative and qualitative studies were found to be of moderate to high quality based on the Appraisal Tool for Cross-Sectional Studies (AXIS) and the Consolidated Criteria for Reporting Qualitative Research (COREQ), respectively. Conclusion: Cancer survivors have an interest in participating in PA programs with walking as the primary modality. Additionally, morning-based PA programs that can be tapered to home-based programs are desirable. However, there was wide variation in other PA preference variables, suggesting multiple program options would be beneficial. Many cancer survivors felt interested and able to participate in PA, and therefore designing PA programs that are tailored to cancer survivors is integral for optimizing recruitment and adherence, as well as enhancing health outcomes in cancer survivors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number48
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 7 2018


  • Cancer
  • Health behavior
  • Physical activity
  • Preferences
  • Systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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