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Open Access Research article

The feasibility and acceptability of neuromuscular electrical stimulation to improve exercise performance in patients with advanced cancer: a pilot study

Tamara Windholz, Tara Swanson, Brandy L Vanderbyl and R Thomas Jagoe*

Author Affiliations

Segal Cancer Centre, Jewish General Hospital, 3755 Cote Ste Catherine, H3T 1E2 Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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BMC Palliative Care 2014, 13:23  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-13-23

Published: 1 May 2014



To determine the feasibility and acceptability of lower limb neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) as a home-based exercise therapy in patients with cancer who could not attend hospital-based exercise training.


A single-arm prospective pilot study of NMES, applied daily to both quadriceps muscles for six weeks. Participants were recruited from patients referred to a hospital-based multi-disciplinary supportive care team specializing in treatment of patients with nutritional depletion and functional decline.


Of the 15 participants who underwent baseline testing, 10 (67%) completed the study and only one (7%) withdrew because of discomfort due to NMES treatment. 7/10 (70%) of participants used NMES at least three times a week for the duration of the study. Use of NMES did not lead to significant improvements in physical performance tests.


NMES is a feasible and acceptable intervention for home use in patients with cancer, poor performance status and metastatic disease. However, whether NMES is an effective strategy to stabilize or improve physical performance in such patients is not proven.

Neuromuscular electrical stimulation; Exercise training; Performance status; Cancer rehabilitation