How exercise can make a difference to breast cancer outcomes

Being told you have breast cancer can be incredibly difficult to dealt with. The prospect of treatments whether it is chemotherapy, radiotherapy, lumpectomy/mastectomy (removal of breast tissue) and subsequent breast reconstruction can be very daunting and life changing. The good news is, there are steps you can take straight after a diagnosis which will enable you to hit the ground running towards an optimal recovery.

Here are 4 reasons why exercise is recommended prior to treatments.

Woman jogging outside

Active patients recover faster

Studies have shown that women who are physically active (light physical activity of approximately 4hrs/week) have an 85% chance of recovering better. This is evident in shorter hospital stays, less sick leave from work and a subjectively feeling close to 100% in terms of mental and physical health after 3 weeks from surgery.

Aerobic exercise can mitigate the cardiotoxic risk of treatments

Treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy or hormone therapy pose a great risk to heart health. Breast Cancer patients are two times more likely to develop cardiovascular mortality than healthy individuals. The average 40 year old breast cancer patient has the equivalent cardiovascular fitness of the average 70 year old sedentary woman. However, promising research is showing that even small increases in cardiovascular fitness for breast cancer patients can significantly decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular specific morbidities.

Woman stretching outside

Range of motion and strength exercises can minimise the functional deficits which commonly arise after surgery

Breast tissue removal via lumpectomy or mastectomy which is often followed by reconstructive surgery can result in significant deficits in muscle function and range of motion. Muscle weakness, mobility dysfunctions are often significant post surgery and requires appropriate rehabilitation with a physiotherapists. However, studies have shown that pre-operative exercises focusing on strength and range of motion can minimise the degree of muscle deconditioning and a faster return to baseline for functional mobility. Patients who participated in a pre-operative exercise program experienced less shoulder pain one month and 3 months post surgery.

Fitter individuals can endure treatment for longer and at higher doses

woman running outside

Chemotherapy is prescribed to approximately 90% of Breast cancer patients. While essential in treating the cancer, chemotherapy is an arduous process involving severe side effects of nausea, pain, fatigue, hair loss, cognitive and neurological dysfunctions. Enduring treatment is incredibly difficult and more so for individuals who are not previously physically active. Studies have shown that women who were more physically active (undertaking both aerobic and resistance exercise) compared to women who lived more sedentary lives were able to significantly withstand high dose intensities for chemotherapy and were more likely to finish the course of their treatment.

If you have any questions at all or would like some professional advice concerning exercise, please consult an exercise physiologist at Balanced Bodies Lifestyle Clinic who can tailor a program to fit your needs!