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Experiences of people with cancer who have participated in a hospital-based exercise program: a qualitative study



Exercise interventions for people with cancer and cancer survivors improve physical health, fatigue, and quality of life. Despite these benefits, poor adherence to exercise is an ongoing challenge among this population. In order to improve adherence in clinical services, this study aims to explore the benefits, challenges, barriers, and facilitators experienced by people with cancer and cancer survivors who participated in a hospital-based exercise program, specifically those who completed or did not complete the full program.


This study involved a qualitative approach. People with a cancer diagnosis who did complete (completers, n = 11) and did not complete (non-completers, n = 4) a 12-session exercise program at a tertiary hospital were recruited. Semi-structured interviews were conducted and thematic analysis was employed to identify emergent themes.


Perceived benefits of exercise was the most prominent theme to emerge, with most participants recognizing improvements in physical, mental, and/or social well-being. Non-completers focused on treatment-related side effects, whereas completers saw an opportunity to return to a healthy lifestyle. The transition from a supervised environment to everyday life presented as the most significant barrier to exercise beyond the program among both program completers and non-completers.


Most people with cancer identified physical, mental, and social benefits from exercising. However, people with cancer and cancer survivors had difficulty maintaining exercise participation beyond completion of a supervised hospital-based program.


Improving exercise participation in people with cancer and cancer survivors may require supervised exercise interventions plus the implementation of strategies to manage side effects and to facilitate the transition of exercise into everyday life to enhance long-term adherence.

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The authors would like to thank Jocelyn Foo and the cancer care physiotherapy team at the Brisbane Tertiary hospital involved with facilitating participant recruitment for this study.

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Correspondence to Alessia Ferri.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research involving human participants

All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments.

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

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NVIVO software version 2, QSR International Pty Ltd, SPSS (version 25, IBM Corp).

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Ferri, A., Gane, E.M., Smith, M.D. et al. Experiences of people with cancer who have participated in a hospital-based exercise program: a qualitative study. Support Care Cancer 29, 1575–1583 (2021).

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