Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women; it is estimated that more than 17,500 cases are diagnosed in Australia each year (150 of these cases will occur in men). While survival rates are influenced by type of disease and stage at diagnosis, 90% diagnosed with breast cancer will be disease-free five years after their diagnosis. Common treatments for breast cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, and targeted drug therapies. The side effects of treatments depend on the extent of surgery, and on the dose and type of adjunct therapy. Possible side effects include fatigue, hair loss, adverse changes in body composition (an increased percentage of fat), weight gain, nausea, sleep concerns, joint and other types of pain, bone loss, ‘chemo brain’ (feeling vague), and lymphoedema (swelling in the chest, breast or arm).
Exercise plays an important role in the treatment of and recovery from breast cancer, through reducing the number and severity of treatment-related side effects and symptoms (such as, pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and cognitive impairment), as well as improving or maintaining function during and after treatment. There is also evidence that women who are physically active after a breast cancer diagnosis have reduced risk of recurrence, reduced risk of developing other chronic diseases, and have better overall survival.
If your symptoms get worse during or after exercise, please seek help from your health professional.
Current guidelines recommend maintaining or building up to 150 minutes of exercise each week. Exercise can be done in sessions as short as 10 minutes and should include either or both aerobic- and resistance-based exercises. It is best to spread exercise sessions out across the week (e.g. 30 minutes on 5 days of the week). Depending on the intensity of the resistance-based exercise, it may be necessary to avoid doing resistancebased exercises on consecutive days. Additional benefits may be gained by exercising for up to 300 minutes each week, but it is important to progress towards this amount gradually.
Whilst many can safely exercise during or following treatment for breast cancer without supervision, support from a qualified health professional may help in commencing and maintaining a safe exercise program.