Breast Cancer and Exercise - The good, the bad, the ugly - the victorious! It's yours - FREE!

Breast Cancer and Exercise

create your own oxygen bar!

Breast cancer and exercise? One can exhaust you just as much as the other! But... with the basic fact that disease does not easily thrive in an oxygenated environment - there's no better way to create your own oxygen bar than to breath deep and often... by exercising. Talk to your doctor of course, or find out what our 6.6 pound desk reference says! The short of the long of it all is - remain active or get active... don't let your body shut down!

Breast Cancer and Exercise - Do they mix?

Yes. There are days and perhaps times when they don't. Your response to exercise can different from day to day and as individual as you are!

The exercise response in cancer patients will be determined by two things:

  • The cancer itself
  • The chosen anti cancer therapy - traditional or alternative.

With most diseases come limitations, disease or treatment specific. Breast cancer and exercise is no exception.

  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain
  • Tumors affecting motor movement
  • Neural Deficits
  • Seizures
  • Anemia
All disease specific complications demand exercise modification to fit individual needs.

Generally cancer's effect on the exercise is determined by the tissues involved and the extent of the involvement such as:

  • Tumors in the body affecting surrounding tissues
  • Musculoskeletal system
  • Lung involvement
  • Brain and Central Nervous System
  • Bone Marrow

How Will Exercise Effect Cancer?

Breast cancer and exercise programs can be very beneficial for cancer patients providing it is tailored to each one's specific needs.

Objectives will change individually. Keep in mind the current treatment, how debilitated the patient may be, if they have gone through this before etc.

Home Health Physical Therapy Goals may include:

  • Maintaining strength, endurance and current level of function for active treatment patients
  • Returning survivors to prior level of function

If you've been through cancer treatment or been around those with cancer, it can seem impossible that aerobic and resistance exercise is even attainable let alone carry any benefits but the benefits of combining breast cancer and exercise far outweight the risks!

Before you shake you head and walk away, look at all these benefits of exercise!

  • Higher quality of life! - You will feel exhausted with breast cancer but exercise can change that!

  • Lower fatigue levels

  • Less side effect impact - You will struggle with side effects with cancer and exercise can change that!

  • Improved body satisfaction

  • Improved mood - You may struggle with depression with cancer and exercise can change that!

  • Easier to maintain body weight

  • Possible bone remodeling

  • Less muscle weakness and muscle wasting - You may feel weak with cancer and exercise can change that!

  • Improved functional ability - You independence will dwindle away with cancer and exercise can help that!

Use exercise to prevent or combat early symptoms of cancer and get ahead of your treatment, however, consult your physician if you have concerns.

Exercise includes several different categories depending on the goals of the person pursuing its benefits. The intensity, frequency and duration of exercise determined by your physical therapist. These guidelines can be found in the following valuable resource: ACSM's Exercise Management for Persons with Chronic Diseases and Disabilities-3rd EditionExercise managmenet for persons with chronic diseases and disabilities book

These categories and associated goals include:

  • Aerobic exercise
    The goal here to improve work capacity, control body weight, improve mood, reduce fatigue and improve quality of life.

  • Endurance exercise
    Goal is to improve the ability to do more and more over a longer period of time

  • Strength training
    Your goal is to improve strength and increase power.

  • Flexibility
    Goal is to improve range of motion and decrease stiffness specifically and overall.

  • Functional abilities like sit to stand and climbing steps
    Goal is to maintain as much independence as possible! Functional goals are the most important as they promote the reality of life.

  • Balance exercise
    Balance goals are simple - decrease your risk of falling.

When implementing exercise as part of your cancer treatment, consider how some of your medications may affect your body and thus your ability to exercise.
  • Keep in mind that glucocorticoids can cause muscle weakness and wasting. This can frustrate strength gain efforts. Bone pain can be caused by growth factors including growing muscle size.

  • Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy can cause fatigue, anemia and nausea. Again, more strikes against gains but stick with it!

  • Radiation therapy can cause skin break down that can become irritated with perspiration, muscle and joint movement and cardiopulmonary myopathies.

  • Not to mention the multitude of side effects that not only each medication brings but the combination of all of them.

How cancer treatment affects you.


Acute Effects Chronic Effects


Limited ROM
Loss of flexibility
Nerve damage


Skin irritation
Loss of flexibility
Cardiac and/or lung scarring


Nerve damage
Muscle pain
Weight gain
Lung scarring
Nerve damage
Bone loss


Weight gain or loss
Flu-like syndrome
Nerve damage
Nerve damage

Taken from p. 167 of ACSM's Exercise Management for Persons with Chronic Diseases and Disabilities-3rd EditionACSM's Exercise Management for Persons with Chronic Diseases and Disabilities

Observation of this table shows that the effects of breast cancer and exercise treatment can be permanent and a battle to fight above and beyond the cancer itself. The beauty of the permanent fight is that it becomes second nature as you make dramatic lifestyle changes, and those lifestyle changes are healthy ones!

Precautions for combining breast cancer and exercise:
  • By the time home health care physical therapy happens on the scene, you may be very debilitated and deconditioned.

  • Active breast cancer and exercise treatment may cause muscle weakness and/or pain.

  • Other modes of exercise may need consideration if can not walk due to the cancer or the treatment.

  • Be aware of medication access lines when you exercise. These are easily caught and pulled out.

  • Any acute change in your general health status means you should stop exercise and talk to your physician. It is vital for physical therapists to assess patients before each exercise session.

  • You are an increased risk of bleeding if platelet count is less than 50,000/mm3. If you have balance issues be extra careful about falling.

  • Consider cardiovascular risks (co-morbidity) especially if you are anemic.

Tips for progressing your exercise routine.
  • Intensity, frequency and duration guidelines are very difficult to make with little research available for guidelines. These should be changed as a result of progress and working with patient ability as well as communication with the oncology physician.

  • (With breast cancer), Exercise programs must be progressive in nature for all cancer patients and survivors. Gently increase the challenge when your ability improves.

  • Changes in medical condition warrant possible adjustments in exercise programs as does the ebb of flow of every day! Proceed gently, with caution and with motivation and perseverance!

Remember that older patients may have co-morbid conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, to name a few. These conditions may dictate the effect of exercise more so than the actual cancer itself. These fragile patients will need to start slow when mixing breast cancer and exercise. Consult your physician or physical therapist about combining breast cancer and exercise.

Some cancer treatments may increase the risk for heart disease and death from heart attack. This is important to keep in mind as you discuss how exercise can benefit your situation.

As you continue (or prevent) your cancer treatment journey , it's not too late to change things now for improved quality of life, better health and prevention of other complications.

Often diseases can send us on a chair-cation. Spending any time in your wheelchair can further deteriorate your health. I've written an extensive resource - Wheelchair Freedom! Get Help. Get Up. Get Out! that puts those in wheelchairs on and educated role to getting back on their feet with illustrated pictures, including how to get in and out of the car from a manual wheelchair and other life easy tips for your wheelchair world!

More suggested reading material that has changed my approach to life and prevention, what I eat and what I do with my body:

Back to from breast cancer and exercise

Signs of Breast Cancer

Breast cancer and exercise? Tell me more!

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