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Breast Cancer & Exercise

Breast Cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and is caused by an abnormal growth and division of cells in the breast. In Australia over 20,000 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year including around 200 men. 1 in 7 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their life time with approximately 80% of cases occurring in women over the age of 50.

Breast cancer diagnosis and treatment differs from person to person with common treatment options including surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and targeted therapies. After a breast cancer diagnosis you may receive one or more of these treatments types.

Historically the advise given to breast cancer patients was to rest during treatment, however we now know that regular exercise is safe and has many benefits during and following breast cancer treatment. Exercise can improve your physical and emotional wellbeing, improve quality of life and is a vital part of breast cancer care.

Benefits of exercise:

Regular exercise has been shown to have positive effects on both short and long term breast cancer treatments and side effects, some of which include;

  • Improvement in overall strength and fitness: Maintaining or increasing lean muscle mass and cardiopulmonary fitness can assist in recovery after surgery, increase tolerance to medications and a decreased risk of developing other chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoporosis

  • Decrease fatigue: Although it may seem counterintuitive, exercise has been shown to help manage fatigue levels and decrease overall fatigue

  • Improve drug efficacy: Regular exercise increases blood flow and results in the formation of new blood vessels throughout the body, these improvement allows for drugs such as chemotherapy to better reach and access the tumour, whilst also improving the individuals tolerance to the medication

  • Decreasing the risk of lymphedema: Exercise increases the flow of lymph fluid through the lymphatic system which can help decrease the risk of lymphedema

  • Improving immune function: Exercise can help strengthen the immune system which can help to inhibit tumour growth and also assist in managing other treatment related side effects.

  • Improved mental well being: Exercise has been shown to help decrease anxiety and depression as well as improve overall quality of life for breast cancer patients.

What exercise is best?

A combination of resistance and aerobic exercise has been shown to be most beneficial during and after breast cancer treatment however there is no “one size fits all” program. Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) updated their exercise and cancer guidelines in 2019 to reinforce that exercise programming should be individualised to meet a individuals abilities, treatment plan, symptoms, medical history and personal goals.

How can PROmotion help?

Jessica is an Accredited Exercise physiologist who has completed further postgraduate study in Exercise and Cancer. Through our C.A.R.E. program (Cancer and Rehabilitation Exercise) Jessica can offer an individualised, client focused approach to cancer and exercise during all treatment stages and into survivorship. Our C.A.R.E. program is suitable for all cancer diagnosis including breast cancer.

What is involved?

An initial assessment with Jessica involves a thorough medical history, physical examination and collaborative discussion with regards to your needs and goals to ensure an individualised program is developed.

Once the initial assessment is complete the C.A.R.E program can be either be completed 1:1 (30 or 45 minute individual sessions with the Exercise Physiologists) or in Small Group sessions (45 minute session with a maximum of 3 patients with the Exercise Physiologist)

If you have recently received any cancer diagnosis, undergoing treatment or are wanting to improve your strength and fitness after treatment, contact the team at PROmotion to book in a consultation with Jessica

García-Chico C, López-Ortiz S, Peñín-Grandes S, Pinto-Fraga J, Valenzuela PL, Emanuele E, Ceci C, Graziani G, Fiuza-Luces C, Lista S, et al. Physical Exercise and the Hallmarks of Breast Cancer: A Narrative Review. Cancers. 2023; 15(1):324.

Idorn M, Hojman P. Exercise-Dependent Regulation of NK Cells in Cancer Protection. Trends Mol Med. 2016;22(7):565-577. doi:10.1016/j.molmed.2016.05.007

Johnsson A, Demmelmaier I, Sjövall K, Wagner P, Olsson H, Tornberg ÅB. A single exercise session improves side-effects of chemotherapy in women with breast cancer: an observational study. BMC Cancer. 2019;19(1):1073. Published 2019 Nov 8. doi:10.1186/s12885-019-6310-0

Wirtz P, Baumann FT. Physical Activity, Exercise and Breast Cancer - What Is the Evidence for Rehabilitation, Aftercare, and Survival? A Review. Breast Care (Basel). 2018;13(2):93-101. doi:10.1159/000488717

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