Aim To review and discuss the available international literature regarding the indirect and direct biochemical mechanisms that occur after exercise, which could positively, or negatively, influence oncogenic pathways. Methods The PubMed, MEDLINE, Embase and Cochrane libraries were searched for papers up to July 2016 addressing biochemical changes after exercise with a particular reference to cancer. The three authors independently assessed their appropriateness for inclusion in this review based on their scientific quality and relevance. Results 168 papers were selected and categorised into indirect and direct biochemical pathways. The indirect effects included changes in vitamin D, weight reduction, sunlight exposure and improved mood. The direct effects included insulin-like growth factor, epigenetic effects on gene expression and DNA repair, vasoactive intestinal peptide, oxidative stress and antioxidant pathways, heat shock proteins, testosterone, irisin, immunity, chronic inflammation and prostaglandins, energy metabolism and insulin resistance. Summary Exercise is one of several lifestyle factors known to lower the risk of developing cancer and is associated with lower relapse rates and better survival. This review highlights the numerous biochemical processes, which explain these potential anticancer benefits.