The Benefits of Physical Therapy for Breast Cancer Patients
By Brooke Smith, DPT
AZOPT Physical Therapist
Breast Cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer affecting women today. Approximately one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Research and treatments continue to make advancements, and today, there are many treatments available to eliminate breast cancer. However, there are many different side effects to every treatment provided. Common side effects of breast cancer treatment can include nerve irritation, numbness, pain, fatigue, and stiffness.
Physical therapy can decrease these common side effects and improve the quality of life during and after cancer treatment. A physical therapist will design an individualized treatment program including specific strengthening exercises, endurance training, and stretching. Physical therapists also offer a variety of manual therapy techniques to reduce scar tissue adhesions; pains associated with scars and surgery, and improve flexibility.
Research has shown that physical activity and exercise have beneficial effects on health after breast cancer treatment and during treatment. It is a safe and feasible option to improve strength, range of motion, maintain muscle, and improve cardiovascular fitness. Physical activity can even be beneficial during chemotherapy or radiation therapy; however, low intensity exercise should be performed. “While currently, it is unclear if exercise improves chemotherapy results, there is no evidence of a negative effect of exercise on response to chemotherapy.”1
Physical activity has also been shown to improve fatigue, anxiety, self-esteem, depression, cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, and body composition. Research has also shown that individuals receiving cancer treatment who participate in an exercise program have a reduced risk of disease recurrence and improved survival rate, as well as decreased risk of osteoporosis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Some exercises that you can perform include:
- Yoga to improve flexibility
- Deep breathing exercises to improve relaxation and provide psychological benefits
- Aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, and swimming to assist with weight management and improve cardiovascular fitness
- Resistance training to improve muscle mass.
You should always consult your doctor to determine any precautions or limitations to exercising. It is important to note that all therapeutic exercise programs should be tailored to each individual and their specific needs. If you experience any increase of weakness, loss of balance, increase of pain, unusual swelling or swelling increases, headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, or new numbness/tingling you should stop your exercises and contact your doctor.
If you have any further questions you can look through the resources in this paper or go to the American Cancer Society web page. If you, or someone you know, are currently undergoing or have recently received Breast Cancer treatment and wish to set up an exercise program, please contact AZOPT at 623-242-6908.
- Rock, C. L., Doyle, C., Demark-Wahnefried, W., Meyerhardt, J., Courneya, K. S., Schwartz, A. L., Bandera, E. V., Hamilton, K. K., Grant, B., McCullough, M., Byers, T. and Gansler, T. (2012), Nutrition and physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 62: 242–274. doi: 10.3322/caac.21142
- O’Brien, Joanna S. “Physical Therapy for Breast Cancer Patients Minimizes Side Effects – See More At: Http://www.bidmc.org/YourHealth/Health-Notes/BreastHealth/LatestNews/PhysicalTherapy.aspx#sthash.zZycPMya.dpuf.” BIDMC. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, 1 Mar. 2012. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.
- http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/moreinformation/exercises-after-breast-surgery. American Cancer Society