Breast Cancer and Exercise

Longevity Exercise Physiology Drummoyne, Edgecliff, Marrickville, Bella VistaRandwickLindfield and Balmain today look at the research into breast cancer and exercise.

Breast cancer has a relatively high survival rate, with the 5 year survival rate being 91%. There are many areas that exercise has been proven to improve quality of life for those undergoing breast cancer treatment as well as breast cancer survivors. Recent research into cancer treatment reveals that exercise is an effective way to manage the side effects of treatment, as it is with many other cancers. Breast cancer patients can suffer from a multitude of adverse side effects including lymphedema, cancer related fatigue, pain and neuropathy.

In the past breast cancer survivors were advised to refrain from high intensity, strenuous exercise particularly in the upper limb to reduce the development of lymphedema. However, studies are now finding that upper limb resistance exercise combined with aerobic exercise may contribute to a reduction in lymphedema, and does not increase the incidence of developing it either.

The findings of these studies recommend for patients to (Wanchai et al):

  • Allow adequate rest between sets
  • Avoid wrapping arms tightly
  • Wear compression sleeves during exercise
  • Maintain hydration
  • Avoid exercising in extreme heat, or overheating
  • Exercising in a circuit
  • Perform exercise sessions supervised by an exercise professional

In terms of cancer related fatigue which can last for months or even years after treatment, research by Francisco ME et al, shows that supervised exercise has a favourable effect on fatigue when compared to conventional therapy. They also concluded that supervised exercise is superior to unsupervised exercise, as it promotes greater adherence and increased motivation for the patients leading to greater outcomes. Other research on quality of life for patients concluded that exercise lasting more than 45 minutes promoted greater improvement than exercise shorter than 45 minutes.

Exercise not only has been shown to improve physical functioning and health for those with breast cancer, but plays an important role in mental wellbeing. Many patients who are diagnosed with any form of cancer often look to improve their overall health, and being able to manage stress and anxiety plays a crucial role.

As exercise physiologists we understand there is a lot more research needed to prove to the greater public that exercise should always be recommended to every single cancer patient in conjunction with their treatment, however we know that undergoing any form of exercise is not harmful as long as it is prescribed uniquely for that patient. Exercise can also help gain some feelings of ‘control’ back for those patients undergoing treatment and will only help to manage the adverse side effects.

Contact Longevity Personal Training Drummoyne, Edgecliff, Marrickville, Bella VistaRandwickLindfield and Balmain  on 1300 964 002 to enquire today.

Written By Susannah Mah-Chut


Breast Cancer, Cancer Council, Retrieved on 15/12/2020

Hong, F., Ye, W., Kuo, C., Zhang, Y., Qian, Y., Korivi, M. (2019). Exercise Intervention Improves Clinical Outcomes, but the “Time of Session” is Crucial for Better Quality of Life in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Cancers, 11(5), 706.

Francisco ME, J., Gonzalez – Jimenez, E., Ramirez – Velez, R. (2015). Effects of supervised exercise on cancer – related fatigue in breast cancer survivors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Cancer, 77.

Hasenoehrl, T., Palma, S., Ramazanova, D., Kolbol, H., Dorner, T., Keilani, M., Crevenna, R. (2020), Resistance exercise and breast cancer–related lymphedema—a systematic review update and meta-analysis. Supportive Care in Cancer, 28, 3593-3603.

Wanchai, A., Armer, J. (2018). Effects of weight-lifting or resistance exercise on breast cancer-related lymphedema: A systematic review. International Journal of Nursing Sciences. 6(1), 92-98.

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