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Conditions

Safe Exercises During Breast Cancer

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Can I exercise during breast cancer treatment?

 

If you were a regular exerciser prior to your breast cancer diagnosis, you may be wondering if you can continue to exercise during your treatment. Perhaps you weren’t a regular exerciser, but would like to start incorporating some physical activity into your routine. The good news is, experts recommend exercise during treatment to improve both physical and mental wellbeing.

It’s important to speak with your doctor regarding any exercise you plan to do during your breast cancer treatment. If you were a regular exerciser prior to your diagnosis, have a conversation with your physician about the types of exercise you normally do to see how they may need to be modified as you go through treatment. If you weren’t a regular exerciser but want to begin, walking is a wonderful place to start. Start small -- think two 10-minute sessions per day -- and build up as your health permits. Again, be sure to consult your physician first.

Breast cancer is treated using one or a combination of methods, and each one brings its own considerations.

 

Surgery

Surgery is usually the first treatment for breast cancer. If you are already an exerciser, continue your normal activity until the time of your surgery. You will learn some basic physical therapy exercises following surgery that you can begin using right away to maintain arm and upper body mobility.

Allow yourself enough time to heal after surgery before resuming or beginning an exercise routine. Talk to your doctor about your plans for exercise, and consider working with a physical therapist or trainer who has experience with breast cancer patients. The physical therapist can help you watch for signs of lymphedema -- a buildup of lymph fluid in the fatty tissue under the skin that is common among those who’ve had breast cancer surgery -- and both can help you modify your exercise program as needed. Stretching exercises are often recommended for those who’ve had breast cancer surgery to help retain mobility.

 

Radiation

Radiation is used following surgery to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. Some of the common side effects -- such as irritation of the skin, fatigue, and anemia -- will need to be taken into account. Fortunately, exercise can help fight fatigue and anemia (low red blood cell count).

Some important considerations:

 

  • If your radiation therapy targets cancer that has spread to a bone, you may be at increased risk of breaking a bone during exercise.
  • Radiation can lower your white blood cell count and put you at higher risk of contracting an infection, so clean exercise equipment thoroughly -- especially shared equipment -- and avoid public gyms if needed.
  • Because irritation of the skin at the treatment site is common during radiation therapy, you’ll want to avoid pools, as the chlorine can further irritate the skin. 

 

Chemotherapy

As with other forms of breast cancer treatment, you can continue to exercise during chemotherapy, but with certain precautions. The medications used during chemotherapy can cause a whole host of side effects, including extreme fatigue, low white blood cell count, and neuropathy (tingling in the hands and feet), which can make you more susceptible to falling. If your chemotherapy is targeting cancer that has spread to the bone, you may be more likely to break a bone while exercising. Some chemotherapies can affect the heart, so it is important to speak with your doctor about the types of modifications you’ll need to make to your exercise routine. You may need to stick with a low intensity activity, such as brief periods of walking, during your chemotherapy treatment.