Every Cancer patient should include Exercise as part of their Cancer Care

31 May, 2018

“Every Cancer patient should include Exercise as part of their Cancer Care”

You may have seen this headline in the news in May announced by a leading Cancer Organisation.

Exercise helps coping better with cancer treatments and improves survival in many cancers.

Why would someone with cancer diagnosis need to consider exercise as part of their cancer care?

  • Exercise has been proven to lessen the chance of breast and bowel cancer returning. If it was a pill, the doctors would hand it out with advice, so why not exercise?

  • Exercise maintains muscle mass with resistance training.  Muscles mass allows better tolerance of cancer treatments and helps maintain independence. Exercise counteracts muscle loss effects from hormone therapies for prostate cancer or breast cancer.   

  • Some chemotherapies affect balance nerve endings in the feet. Exercise maintains or improves balance and core strength so lessens the risk of falling over with age.

  • Exercise improves energy levels sapped by chemotherapy and radiation. Yoga improves sleep patterns and energy of patients with breast cancer.

  • Exercise when safely monitored and prescribed during chemotherapy stops otherwise irreversible loss of cardiovascular fitness.

  • Exercise groups build and become a community. Building and strengthening relationships may help how to deal with cancer. The gym is not for everyone – picking something enjoyable is more likely to be continued. Yoga, brisk walking, cycling or paddling in a Dragon Boat are excellent examples.

  • Exercise can help counteract carrying extra weight before or since a cancer diagnosis and treatment and improve longer-term health.

Cancer and its treatment may limit what many feel safe or comfortable doing. An exercise physiologist or physiotherapist is a person trained in prescribing and monitoring exercise based on their health to build this confidence.

It is all about taking small steps at a time so that exercise continues to be part of life and wellness.

The GP can provide a Medicare subsidised personalised exercise assessment and program referral to an accredited exercise physiologist or physiotherapist. This provides a safe start to possibly a life changing programme. Cancer Council NSW offers exercise through the free ENRICH programme.

Questions to ask the cancer specialist.

  • Is it too soon to exercise?

  • Is there anything about the cancer or the treatment and surgery that may affect what kind of exercise given?

  • What is the benefit that exercise could bring after this diagnosis of cancer?

  • How much and what type of exercise is best against that cancer or treatment?


Recommended Exercise after a Cancer diagnosis.

Avoid inactivity and return to normal daily activities as soon as possible after a diagnosis.

Aerobic: At least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (e.g. walking, jogging, cycling, swimming) each week. 10,000 steps a day are recommended. A cheap pedometer measures how many steps a day taken. Setting a goal and keeping a diary to check on progress is a sure winner.

Resistance: 2- 3 resistance exercise (i.e. lifting weights) sessions each week involving moderate to vigorous-intensity exercises targeting the major muscle groups.

Referrals to a survivorship clinic to build a Cancer Survivorship Care Plan and hear more about the benefits of exercise and other adjunct therapies may provide the support and encouragement needed to maintain programs that will improve health and wellbeing.

For more details go to the COSA Position Statement on Exercise and Cancer Care



Dr Diana Adams

Senior Medical Oncologist and Survivorship Specialist

Lead Oncologist of the COSA Exercise Group

Evexia Care - Living Well after Cancer