Exercise in the Treatment of Breast Cancer

Written by: Niki Holding (Accredited Exercise Physiologist)

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that originates in the breast tissue. It occurs when the cells in the breast start to grow uncontrollably, forming a malignant tumour.

These cancerous cells can invade surrounding tissues and potentially spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream.

Breast cancer can affect both women and men, but it is much more common in women, affecting 20,000 women in Australia each year.

It is the most prevalent cancer among women globally, with millions of new cases diagnosed each year. Men account for a small percentage of breast cancer cases, usually less than 1%.

Exercise for Breast Cancer

Exercise recommendations for breast cancer patients and survivors can vary based on individual health status, treatment history, fitness level, and personal preferences.

Before starting any exercise program, it’s crucial for breast cancer patients to consult with their healthcare team, including oncologists and rehabilitation specialists such as an exercise physiologist, to ensure it is safe and appropriate for their specific situation.

Exercise plays a crucial role in the management and recovery of breast cancer. Numerous studies have shown that regular physical activity offers significant benefits for women diagnosed with breast cancer. Here are some ways exercise can be beneficial for breast cancer patients and survivors.

Benefits of Exercise for Breast Cancer

Improved Quality of Life

Regular exercise can enhance overall quality of life for breast cancer patients and survivors. It can help reduce fatigue, improve mood, boost self-esteem, and alleviate anxiety and depression.

Managing Treatment Side Effects
Breast cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy can cause various side effects, including fatigue, weight gain, and reduced muscle strength. Exercise can help counter these effects, leading to a better physical and emotional state during treatment.

Reduced Risk of Recurrence
Some studies suggest that regular physical activity may be associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer recurrence and improved long-term survival rates.

Lymphedema Management
Lymphedema is swelling that can occur after lymph node removal during breast cancer surgery. Properly prescribed and supervised exercise can help manage lymphedema and reduce the risk of its occurrence.

Bone Health
Some breast cancer treatments can lead to bone density loss. Weight-bearing exercises, resistance training, and activities that promote bone health can be beneficial.

Immune System Support
Exercise has been shown to enhance immune function, which can be essential for individuals undergoing cancer treatment.

Social Support
Participating in group exercise programs or classes can provide social support and a sense of community, which can be valuable during the breast cancer journey.

Exercise Guidelines for Breast Cancer

When incorporating exercise into breast cancer care, it’s essential to follow these guidelines:

Consult with a Healthcare Provider
Before starting any exercise program, consult with your healthcare team to ensure it is safe and suitable for your individual condition and treatment plan.

Start Slowly
If you’re new to exercise or have been sedentary during treatment, start with gentle activities and gradually progress as you build strength and endurance.

Listen to Your Body
Pay attention to how your body responds to exercise. If you experience pain or discomfort, modify the activity or consult with your healthcare provider.

Seek Professional Guidance
Consider working with a certified cancer exercise specialist or physical therapist experienced in working with cancer patients to design a safe and effective exercise program.

Stay Hydrated
Drink plenty of water, especially during and after exercise, to stay adequately hydrated.

Rest and Recovery
Allow your body sufficient time to rest and recover between exercise sessions.

Overall, exercise is a valuable tool in supporting breast cancer patients and survivors, improving their physical and emotional well-being, and helping them live healthier and more fulfilling lives.