Exercise Rehabilitation for Cancer

Advances in detection and treatment mean that more people are surviving their cancer diagnosis. However, they are often left with lingering treatment side-effects which can last for affect their health and quality of life. 1,2,3

Cancer rehabilitation is a rapidly emerging and evolving field and should aim to maximize the health and well-being of survivors of cancer, focusing on effective symptom management, prevention of late effects, and health promotion.


The is strong evidence of the benefits of exercise for those diagnosed with breast, colorectal, prostate and hematologic cancers and there is encouraging evidence emerging for the effect of exercise in other cancer diagnoses (e.g. lung and gynaecological).

Benefits of Exercise for Cancer Survivors

  • Recent research has found that exercise is beneficial not only post-treatment to recover physical function, but also during treatment as it helps to prevent the decline of physical function without increasing fatigue.

  • Patients with advanced cancer can also benefit from regular exercise with reports of maintained independence and well-being. 4,5,6

Cancer continuum

Studies have demonstrated that exercise 5-9

  • Enhances physical function

    • Increases cardiorespiratory fitness and strength

  • Reduces nausea

  • Reduces fatigue

  • Reduces anxiety and depression

  • Increases integrity of bone and muscle mass

  • Assists with weight management

  • Reduce fat mass and maintain/increase lean tissue mass

  • Improve arm dysfunction without increasing the risk of lymphedema in those who have undergone treatment for breast cancer

Patients who exercise both during and post-treatment give themselves the best chance to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and also reduce their risk of developing other chronic health conditions.

  • In combination with conventional care, breast cancer and colon cancer survivors who exercise can achieve a remarkable 50% improvement in survival compared to those who are sedentary 10,11

  • In combination with conventional care, prostate cancer survivors who exercise can achieve a lower relative risk of prostate-specific mortality by up to 30% 12


1. McGowan, 2011. Exercise interventions in supportive oncology. 2. Schmitz, 2010. American College of Sports Medicine roundtable on exercise guidelines for cancer survivors. 3. Rajotte, 2012. Community-based exercise program effectiveness and safety for cancer survivors. 4. Buffart, 2014. Evidence-based physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors: current guidelines, knowledge gaps and future research directions. 5. Galvão, 2005. Review of exercise intervention studies in cancer patients. 6. Mishra, 2012. Exercise interventions on health‐related quality of life for cancer survivors. 7. Newton, 2008. Exercise in prevention and management of cancer. 8. Chan, 2010. Effectiveness of exercise programmes on shoulder mobility and lymphoedema after axillary lymph node dissection for breast cancer: systematic review. 9. McNeely, 2010. Exercise interventions for upper‐limb dysfunction due to breast cancer treatment. 10. Holmes, 2005. Physical activity and survival after breast cancer diagnosis. 11. Meyerhardt, 2006. Physical activity and survival after colorectal cancer diagnosis. 12. Kenfield, 2011. Physical activity and survival after prostate cancer diagnosis in the health professional’s follow-up study.