Effects of a combined physical and psychosocial training for children with cancer: a randomized controlled trial

Katja I Braam, Elisabeth M van Dijk-Lokkart, Gertjan J L Kaspers, Tim Takken, Jaap Huisman, Laurien M Buffart, Marc B Bierings, Johannes H M Merks, Marry M van den Heuvel-Eibrink, Margreet A Veening, Eline van Dulmen-den Broeder

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35 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Physical fitness and psychosocial function is often reduced in children during or shortly after cancer treatment. This study evaluates the effect of a combined physical exercise and psychosocial intervention on cardiorespiratory fitness, muscle strength, body composition, psychosocial function and health-related quality of life (HrQoL). In addition, intervention mediators, applicability and adherence were examined.

METHODS: This multicenter randomized controlled trial included 68 children with cancer [mean age 13.2 (SD: 3.1) years; 54% male] during treatment or within 12-months post-treatment. The 12-week intervention consisted of 24 individual physical exercise sessions supervised by a physiotherapist, and 6 psychosocial training sessions for children and 2 for parents. Physical fitness and psychosocial function were assessed at baseline, directly post-intervention and at 12 months' post-baseline. Generalized estimating equations were used to simultaneously assess intervention effects at short and long-term. Additionally, we evaluated within-group differences over time. Potential physical and psychosocial mediators in the intervention effect on HrQoL were examined using the product-of-coefficient test. Applicability and adherence were assessed by trainer-report.

RESULTS: This study was able to compare 26 children who received the study intervention, with 33 children who received usual care. No significant differences in the effects of the intervention were found on physical fitness and psychosocial function at short-term. At 12-months follow-up, significantly larger improvements in lower body muscle strength (β = 56.5 Newton; 95% CI: 8.5; 104.5) were found in the intervention group when compared to the control group. Within-group changes showed significant improvements over time in HrQoL and bone density in both groups. Intervention effects on HrQoL were not significantly mediated by physical fitness and psychological function. Intervention applicability was satisfactory with an average session attendance of 67% and 22% dropout (mainly due to disease recurrence).

CONCLUSIONS: This 12-week physical exercise and psychosocial training intervention for children with cancer was applicable and showed satisfactory adherence. We found no significant between-group differences in effect, except for a significant improvement in lower body muscle strength at long-term in the intervention group compared to the control group. Yet, both the intervention and the control group showed improvements in bone mineral density and HrQoL over time.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: The trial was registered at the Dutch Trial Registry ( NTR1531 ). Registered 12 November 2008.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1289
Pages (from-to)1289
JournalBMC cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Dec 2018


  • Adolescent
  • Bone Density/physiology
  • Cardiorespiratory Fitness/physiology
  • Child
  • Exercise Therapy/methods
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle Strength/physiology
  • Neoplasms/physiopathology
  • Psychotherapy/methods
  • Quality of Life
  • Treatment Outcome


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