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Can exercise lead to increased treatment efficacy for breast cancer patients?

A tailored exercise program has been found to offer greater treatment efficacy pre, during and post treatment for breast cancer. It may not feel like it mid-workout but exercise also leads to a much greater quality of life.

You have been putting on a brave face, but secretly worried ever since you noticed the deviation from the breast that you have known all too well for most of your adult life. The feeling of betrayal seeps in and anxiety starts to rise as you get the feeling that something may not be quite right. Fast forward to sitting in your doctors office, waiting nervously to discuss your results and you hear 'it's breast cancer' and your world goes quiet.

a women in a ba women in a beige top talk to a doctor in a doctors officeeige top talk to a doctor in a doctors

It is important to remember that a diagnosis is not a death sentence and cancer treatment is advancing every day. Currently, breast cancer typically has three major treatment courses: radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. The treatment options vary due to the grade, stage, and sub-type of the tumour, and will be determined by your medical team.

Surgery is a cornerstone of therapy and is indicated in more than 90% of people with breast cancer at some point during treatment. The most standard breast surgery approaches are either total excision of the breast (mastectomy), usually followed by a breast reconstruction, or breast preserving surgery (lumpectomy), involving the removal of the breast tissue with a margin of surrounding ‘normal’ tissue.

a woman in scrubs looks toward the camera as a surgery is being performed in an operating room

While highly effective, surgery can result in both physical and psychosocial side effects that significantly impair quality of life and may last for months or years after treatment completion. Some of these include lymphedema (lymph fluid build-up), pain, upper quadrant dysfunction – manifesting as a loss of strength and range in chest/shoulder/arm/neck, and fatigue.

Preparing for Surgery

Higher levels of preoperative aerobic fitness and strength are associated with better surgical outcomes including decreased postoperative complications and mortality in other clinical and cancer populations, alongside greater outcomes holistically. Therefore, it is important to follow a guided exercise plan that is tailored to your needs, goals, and treatment plan. This will prepare you for your upcoming treatment.

a breast cancer patient walking with her exercise physiologist at Balanced Bodies Lifestyle Clinic

Recovering after Surgery

Exercise plays a vital role in rehabilitation post breast cancer surgery. Exercise can vary from range of motion + stretches, aerobic exercise, resistance training and more, all catering to different needs.

Some of the many benefits to exercising post operation can include:

  • Improved shoulder range of motion

  • Improved upper limb muscle strength

  • Reduced pain

  • Reduced upper limb dysfunction

  • Reduced arm lymphedema

Exercising post-surgery needs to be tailored to you, your physical presentation, and your goals moving forward. Our team of exercise physiologist are adeptly experienced within this realm and can cater your exercise prescription to what is going to have the most benefit for you. Book in your initial consultation with our skilled team today!

If you would like more information, please call us on 02 8969 6300 or email


Brahmbhatt, P., Sabiston, C. M., Lopez, C., Chang, E., Goodman, J., Jones, J., McCready, D., Randall, I., Rotstein, S., & Santa Mina, D. (2020). Feasibility of Prehabilitation Prior to Breast Cancer Surgery: A Mixed-Methods Study. Frontiers in oncology, 10, 571091.

Burguin, A., Diorio, C., & Durocher, F. (2021). Breast Cancer Treatments: Updates and New Challenges. Journal of personalized medicine, 11(8), 808.

Lin, Y., Chen, Y., Liu, R., & Cao, B. (2023). Effect of exercise on rehabilitation of breast cancer surgery patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Nursing open, 10(4), 2030–2043.


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