Physical Activity Before, During and After Cancer

How does being active affect Cancer?  The answer is physical activity and cancer relate in many ways both during treatment and after treatment while the disease is in remission, but also being physically active plays a large part in preventing many cancers in the first place.


The following information is from the US National Cancer Institute and gives strong evidence that being physically active can lower your risk of several types of cancer. 

  • Bladder cancer: In a 2014 meta-analysis of 11 cohort studies and 4 case-control studies, the risk of bladder cancer was 15% lower for individuals with the highest level of recreational or occupational physical activity than in those with the lowest level. A pooled analysis of over 1 million individuals found that leisure-time physical activity was linked to a 13% reduced risk of bladder cancer.
  • Breast cancer: Many studies have shown that physically active women have a lower risk of breast cancer than inactive women. In a 2016 meta-analysis that included 38 cohort studies, the most physically active women had a 12–21% lower risk of breast cancer than those who were least physically active. Physical activity has been associated with similar reductions in risk of breast cancer among both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Women who increase their physical activity after menopause may also have a lower risk of breast cancer than women who do not.
  • Colon cancer: In a 2016 meta-analysis of 126 studies, individuals who engaged in the highest level of physical activity had a 19% lower risk of colon cancer than those who were the least physically active. 
  • Endometrial cancer: Several meta-analyses and cohort studies have examined the relationship between physical activity and the risk of endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus). In a meta-analysis of 33 studies, highly physically active women had a 20% lower risk of endometrial cancer than women with low levels of physical activity. There is some evidence that the association is indirect, in that physical activity would have to reduce obesity for the benefits to be observed. Obesity is a strong risk factor for endometrial cancer.
  • Esophageal cancer: A 2014 meta-analysis of nine cohort and 15 case–control studies found that the individuals who were most physically active had a 21% lower risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma than those who were least physically active. 
  • Kidney (renal cell) cancer: In a 2013 meta-analysis of 11 cohort studies and 8 case–control studies, individuals who were the most physically active had a 12% lower risk of renal cancer than those who were the least active. A pooled analysis of over 1 million individuals found that leisure-time physical activity was linked to a 23% reduced risk of kidney cancer.
  • Stomach (gastric) cancer: A 2016 meta-analysis of 10 cohort studies and 12 case–control studies reported that individuals who were the most physically active had a 19% lower risk of stomach cancer than those who were least active.


In addition to prevention, physical activity has an impact on treatment as well. It can improve cancer-related fatigue, mental wellbeing, physical function and your overall quality of life. Now you may wonder if exercise is safe while undergoing such intensive treatment?  In these cases it’s always advisable that exercises should be supervised, guided and monitored by a professional and that’s where we come in as physiotherapists. Exercising with a physiotherapist might help with any of the following:

  1. Having a prescribed and monitored exercise program to improve or maintain cardiovascular fitness, strength, endurance, or mobility.
  2. Treating pain complaints
  3. Helping to improve mobility and function:  For example, if a patient has limitations after having surgery.
  4. Safety:  Assessing whether the patient is at risk for various safety concerns such as falls and recommending the right exercises or equipment to mitigate the risk.
  5. Treating lymphedema – This condition is common in some cancers, especially breast cancer, and a physiotherapist can guide exercises along with other treatments to help reduce it.
  6. Helping family and caregivers – we often help to train and advise the family and other caregivers of our patients in how they can best assist with an exercise program at home.


Weve already know that getting to and staying at a healthy weight, eating right, and being physically active reduce the risk of other serious chronic diseases, as well as the risk of developing a second type of cancer.

Per the American Cancer Society, a healthy lifestyle might also decrease the risk of some cancers coming back. A growing number of studies have looked at the impact of physical activity on cancer recurrence and long-term survival. Studies of people with breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers suggest that physically active cancer survivors have a lower risk of cancer recurrence and improved survival compared with those who are inactive.

  • Exercise can lower estrogen in the body, which lowers breast cancer risk.
  • It helps decrease your body fat percentage; less fat means that less estrogen is stored. 
  • It promotes strong immunity, so that your body has a better chance of identifying and attacking cancer cells.
  • It can increase the flow of lymphatic fluid so that lymph node metastasis is prevented.

Exercise has been shown to improve a variety of other common factors experienced by cancer survivors such as:  decreased cardiovascular fitness, decreased muscle strength, altered body composition, fatigue, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and others.

If you or your loved one is considering starting an exercise program, call us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced physiotherapists. Whether you are currently undergoing cancer treatment, you are in remission, or you just want to get serious about your health and wellness, we can get you started with the right program tailor made for you.

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