Exercise helps cancer patients lead happier lives

One of the first quality-of-life studies into Saudi cancer sufferers shows exercise and family support help.



A cancer diagnosis is a harrowing concept, and a daily reality for millions of people. The World Health Organization names the disease as the second leading cause of death worldwide. While cancer treatment remains a top priority, scientists and physicians also strive to ensure patients lead meaningful lives, regardless of prognosis. But there has been a lack of quality-of-life (QoL) studies into what helps or harms them.

“We care about the quality of our patients’ lives as much as we care about their treatment,” says Anwar E. Ahmed, an associate professor in the College of Public Health & Health Informatics at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences. The reason for the lack of studies, he explains, is that the term ‘quality of life’, especially as it relates to cancer patients, is a new concept in the kingdom and in other non-Western countries.

Ahmed’s research group, comprising students and staff from five Saudi institutions, published in 2017 the most comprehensive Saudi-focused QoL evaluation to-date. The team used a self-assessment questionnaire to gather patients’ subjective appraisals of their own physical and mental health. They then analyzed the relationships between those scores and an array of patient attributes, including age, gender, marital status, education and employment status, cancer disease presentation, and more.

“We are seeing more and more people diagnosed with cancer, and we just don’t know what their quality of life is — especially just after diagnosis,” says Ahmed.

The scientists revealed multiple trends, the most prevalent being the benefit of regular exercise on multiple facets of well-being. Patients who exercised reported better physical health, vitality, social functioning, and overall general welfare. Patients with family support reported higher levels of emotional well-being and general health. Those with diagnoses less than a year old exhibited significantly poor QoL metrics. Leukaemia was particularly implicated in poor QoL, in comparison to other forms of cancer. These data endorse further investigation into exercise and emotional support for improving the lives of cancer patients in Saudi Arabia. Ahmed recommends further research involving a mobile app that allows patients to report their daily feelings, whether they exercised, and what symptoms they are experiencing. This can help better monitor their well-being and inform their treatment options, he says.


  1.  | Ahmed, A. E., Almuzaini, A. S., Alsadhan, M. A., Alharbi, A. G., Almuzaini, H. S. et al. Health-related predictors of quality of life in cancer patients in Saudi Arabia. Journal of Cancer Education, 1–9 (2017) | article

Read this next

Stem-cell boost to immune cells could help quell cancer

Stimulating immune cells with placental stem cells could enhance the body’s natural anti-cancer activity

Microparticles pack a big punch

Saudi researchers have developed tiny iron oxide particles that can carry multiple drugs deep into the core of tumours 

Pinning down a genetic cause of increased prostate cancer risk

Propensity hinges on the regulatory role of a rare genetic variant