Can Physical Activity Lessen Pain Intensity in Cancer Survivors?

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Physical activity may help lessen the intensity of pain in cancer survivors, according to a recent study published by Swain et al in Cancer.


Current U.S. guidelines regarding physical activity recommend that individuals receive 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week. Cancer survivors often experience ongoing pain related to cancer. Although physical activity has been shown to lessen various types of pain, its effects on cancer-related pain are unclear.

Study Methods and Results

In the recent study, investigators analyzed the outcomes of 10,651 cancer survivors and 51,439 controls. The participants were asked to rate their pain—with responses ranging from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain imaginable)—and describe their typical physical activity.

The investigators found that among the cancer survivors and controls, more physical activity was associated with lower pain intensity. The extent of the association was similar for both groups, indicating that exercise may effectively reduce cancer-related pain as well as other types of pain.

Among the cancer survivors, those exceeding the current physical activity guidelines were 16% less likely to report moderate-to-severe pain compared with those who didn’t meet the physical activity guidelines. Further, compared with those who remained inactive, the participants who were consistently active or became active in older adulthood reported less pain.


“It may feel counterintuitive to some, but physical activity is an effective, nonpharmacologic option for reducing many types of pain. As our study suggests, this may include pain associated with cancer and its treatments,” concluded senior study author Erika Rees-Punia, PhD, MPH, of the American Cancer Society. 

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.