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Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Australian women with 1 in every 8 women experiencing it by the age of 85. Whilst survival rates and treatments vary in regards to the size/ severity of the tumour and the involvement of the lymph nodes, most are disease free within 5 years. Common treatments for breast cancer are surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy and specific drug therapies. The side effects of treatments depend on the extent of any surgery, and on the dose and type of adjunct therapy.These therapies have a range of side effects including:

  • Fatigue

  • Hair loss

  • Changes in body composition and often weight gain

  • Nausea

  • Poor sleep quality

  • Pain

  • Reduction in bone density

  • Swelling (lymphedema) 


How does exercise help? 

Exercise helps during treatment by addressing both the physical and emotional wellbeing of breast cancer patients. Exercise can assist in managing weight, muscle strength, bone density, swelling, sleep, fatigue and pain. It's the best way to manage these symptoms with the lowest risk of side affects.

Both cardiovascular and resistance exercise is recommended throughout treatment. It is recommended to start at a low to moderate intensity and gradually build, with benefits felt mostly when completing 30 minutes a day. Depending on your fitness level, many short sessions may be needed to accumulate at least 30 minutes of daily exercise, however the aim is to build up to 150 minutes a week. 


Many women fear exercise worsening symptoms however research suggests otherwise. In particular, women fear that exercise will worsen lymphedema and hence avoid it, yet research has shown that exercise does not cause or worsen lymphedema, some evidence suggests that exercise may play a role in its prevention. Often side effects from treatment may be worse on days directly after, so it's important to speak to your Accredited Exercise Physiologist about a program that can be done on these days. It's encouraged to do what you can instead of avoiding it all together!

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