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  • Writer's pictureHarrison Brown

Exercise and cancer

Updated: Jul 17, 2022

Cancer statistics

Approximately 134,000 Australians are diagnosed with a form of cancer every year. (1) There are also over 1 million people who have had or are living with cancer. (1) Recent evidence suggests that exercise can improve cancer outcomes, quality of life and reduce side-effects of treatments. (2,3)

Exercise is safe during cancer treatment

There are many forms of cancer related treatments including radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy and surgery. It now strongly recommended by the Cancer Council that exercise is completed before, during and after cancer treatment.

How does exercise help?

Exercise has a range of benefits for cancer patients including: (2,3)

· Reduce risk of developing heart issues after chemotherapy or radiation

· Reduce bone and muscle loss as a result of cancer treatments

· Reduce lymphedema

· Improve mental health

How much and what type of exercise?

The recommendation for aerobic exercise is to aim for 3 x 30-60 minute sessions per week. (2,3) Types of aerobic exercise include: (2,3)

· Brisk walking

· Cycling

· Swimming

· Using an elliptical trainer

· Rowing

It is also recommended to complete resistance training sessions twice per week for 60 minutes. (2,3) Resistance training is using weights, resistance bands and using your own body weight. Aiming for 8-10 exercises completing 8-15 repetitions is something to aim for however this is general advice.

Client story

Jo was diagnosed with stage 4 Breast Cancer in late 2020 and immediately began immunotherapy and hormone treatment. Jo had poor muscular strength, fitness and was experiencing joint pain at this point. Jo started seeing the Exercise Physiologists at Geelong Rehabilitation Centre 5-weeks after her diagnosis. “Exercise pulls me from the darkness and makes me feel normal”. “It makes me not think of myself as a cancer patient” says Jo. Fast forward to 2022, Jo is currently in remission and pain free. Jo is doing what she loves again including jogging and competitive sailing.

Written by Harrison Brown (Accredited Exercise Physiologist)


1. Australian Bureau of Statistics (2017-18) 'Cancer',, accessed 18 March 2022.

2. Schmitz KH, Campbell AM, Stuiver MM, Pinto BM, Schwartz AL, Morris GS, Ligibel JA, Cheville A, Galvão DA, Alfano CM, Patel AV, Hue T, Gerber LH, Sallis R, Gusani NJ, Stout NL, Chan L, Flowers F, Doyle C, Helmrich S, Bain W, Sokolof J, Winters-Stone KM, Campbell KL, Matthews CE. Exercise is medicine in oncology: Engaging clinicians to help patients move through cancer. CA Cancer J Clin. 2019 Nov;69(6):468-484. doi: 10.3322/caac.21579. Epub 2019 Oct 16. PMID: 31617590; PMCID: PMC7896280.

3. Hayes, S., Newton, R., Spence, R. and Galvão, D.,2019. The Exercise and Sports Science Australia position statement: Exercise medicine in cancer management. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport,22(11), pp.1175-1199

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