Cancer survivors’ experiences of a community-based cancer-specific exercise programme: results of an exploratory survey



Exercise levels often decline following cancer diagnosis despite growing evidence of its benefits. Treatment side effects, older age, lack of confidence and opportunity to exercise with others in similar circumstances influence this. Our study explored the experiences of people attending a cancer-specific community-based exercise programme (CU Fitter™).


A survey distributed to those attending the programme gathered demographic/clinical information, self-reported exercise levels, information provision and barriers to/benefits of exercise.


Sixty surveys were evaluable from 65/100 returned (62% female, 68% > 60 years, 66% breast/prostate cancer). Most (68%) were receiving treatment. Sixty-eight percent attended classes once or twice weekly. Fifty-five percent received exercise advice after diagnosis, usually from their hospital doctor/nurse. More (73%) had read about exercising, but less used the Internet to source information (32%). Self-reported exercise levels were higher currently than before diagnosis (p = 0.05). Forty-eight percent said their primary barrier to exercising was the physical impact of cancer/treatment. Improving fitness/health (40%) and social support (16%) were the most important gains from the programme. Many (67%) had made other lifestyle changes and intented to keep (50%) or increase (30%) exercising.


This community-based cancer-specific exercise approach engaged people with cancer and showed physical, psychological, and social benefits.

Implications for cancer survivors

Community-grown exercise initiatives bring cancer survivors together creating their own supportive environment. Combining this with instructors familiar with the population and providing an open-ended service may prove particularly motivating and beneficial. Further work is required to provide evidence for this.

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We would like to thank all the respondents who found time to complete the survey.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Susan Catt.

Ethics declarations

Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) Research Governance and Ethics Committee (Ref No: 16/024/HAR) granted ethical approval for the study.

Conflict of interest

Susan Catt and Helena Harder have no conflicts of interest to declare. Jan Sheward and Erica Sheward are Trustees of Cancer United™ (No.1155747), a registered cancer support charity based in West Sussex, UK through which the CU Fitter™ programme is delivered.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Catt, S., Sheward, J., Sheward, E. et al. Cancer survivors’ experiences of a community-based cancer-specific exercise programme: results of an exploratory survey. Support Care Cancer 26, 3209–3216 (2018).

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  • Cancer
  • Exercise
  • Health behaviour
  • Physical activity
  • Quality of life
  • Survivorship