Things to Consider

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Patients may be worried about negative side effects or the safety of physical activity while they are undergoing treatment or during recovery. This is a valid concern, as patients may want to be cautious of strenuous activities or fear adverse effects from it. Physical activity was once discouraged for certain patients with breast cancer because of concern regarding lymphedema, a potential side effect of surgery or radiation that causes swelling and pain in the arm on the affected side. Research findings have demonstrated that physical activity does not contribute to or worsen lymphedema.

Overall, there are few negative impacts of including physical activity.3 Although physical activity is safe for both patients and survivors, patients should be mindful of their abilities and the limitations of their condition. Activities should be adjusted to patients’ ability and interest while considering their overall health and the course of disease.1 A best practice for patients is to discuss exercise safety with their physicians, understand the level of supervision required, and make the best-informed decisions for their unique needs.1


The benefits of physical activity for people with breast cancer are vast. Researchers have found that including some form of physical activity could improve quality of life, mood, and some side effects. We can play a vital role in assisting patients to regain a sense of control in their changing landscapes. Introducing and encouraging a form of physical activity to our patients can begin the process of reclaiming some influence and balance back into their lives. When patients make healthy lifestyle choices, they are taking steps to improve many aspects of their well-being. They are making choices that impact their present reality and their future on their path to healing in a safe and effective way.


1. Schmitz KH, Courneya KS, Matthews C, et al; American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine roundtable on exercise guidelines for cancer survivors. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42(7):1409-1426.

2. Fisher MI, Howell D. The power of empowerment: an ICF-based model to improve self-efficacy and upper extremity function of survivors of breast cancer. Rehabil Oncol. 2010;28(3):19-25.

3. Craft LL, Vaniterson EH, Helenowski IB, Rademaker AW, Courneya KS. Exercise effects on depressive symptoms in cancer survivors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2012;21(1):3-19.

4. Holmes MD, Chen WY, Feskanich D, Kroenke CH, Colditz GA. Physical activity and survival after breast cancer diagnosis. JAMA 2005;293(20):2479-2486.

5. Ibrahim EM, Al-Homaidh A. Physical activity and survival after breast cancer diagnosis: meta-analysis of published studies. Med Oncol. 2011;28(3):753-765.