Is it OK to go swimming during and after radiotherapy or chemotherapy? What kind of exercise can you do after breast cancer surgery?

Physical activity has a number of benefits for people with breast cancer. But you might need to consider a few things if you’ve just had, or are still having, treatment. 

Before starting any type of activity, talk to your treatment team or GP. 

1. Exercise after surgery
2. Exercise during and after chemotherapy
3. Exercise during and after radiotherapy 
4. Exercise while taking hormone (endocrine) therapy

1. Exercise after surgery 

How soon you start, what type and how much physical activity you do after surgery will depend on the type of surgery you’ve had, your recovery and your fitness level before your surgery. 

Many people feel well enough to go for a short walk a few days after surgery, but others need longer to rest. Build your physical activity levels up gradually, and remember it may take time to return to the level of activity you were doing before your surgery.

After surgery for breast cancer, shoulder and arm exercises are important to help you regain the movement and function you had before surgery. 

You may be advised not to lift or push with your arm on the side of your surgery and not to lift anything heavy. Your breast care nurse or a physiotherapist will tell you more about this. 

If you’ve had any type of breast reconstruction, ask your surgeon, breast care nurse or a physiotherapist which exercises they recommend. The types of activities you can do may be limited for some time, depending on the type of reconstruction you’ve had. 

2. Exercise during and after chemotherapy

Swimming and chemotherapy 

You may be advised to avoid swimming while having chemotherapy. This is because chemotherapy affects your immune system and your body is less able to fight infection. This means you may be more susceptible to any germs in the water. 

If you would like to go swimming during or soon after chemotherapy, discuss it with your treatment team first.

Other activities

Chemotherapy affects people in different ways. Some people have very few side effects and are able to continue with their usual activities. 

Others feel extremely tired or unwell and unable to carry on as usual. This can be frustrating if you want to be physically active.

There will be times when you do feel able to do some type of activity. Gentle exercise, such as walking, can boost your energy, help make you feel less tired and improve your mood. It may be possible to continue with other types of physical activity such as yoga. 

Talk to your treatment team about any activities you would like to do while you’re having treatment. They can tell you which activities are suitable.

3. Exercise during and after radiotherapy

Swimming and radiotherapy

You may be advised to avoid swimming during radiotherapy and shortly afterwards. This is because radiotherapy can cause skin changes and these can be irritated by chlorine or chemicals in the pool. Also swimwear can rub the skin and cause discomfort.

However, if you don’t have any skin problems, it’s possible to continue swimming but check with your treatment team first. They may recommend that you rinse the treated area after swimming to remove any chlorine

Other activities

If you’re having radiotherapy you may be advised to continue with your shoulder and arm exercises

You could also do any other gentle exercise that feels comfortable, such as walking, gentle stretching, yoga and pilates. There’s no reason not to exercise during radiotherapy if you feel up to it. 

4. Exercise while taking hormone (endocrine) therapy

Hormone therapies may increase the risk of developing osteoporosis, where bones lose their strength and become fragile and more likely to break.

Regular weight-bearing exercises can help to stimulate the growth and strength of the bones. 

Find out more about looking after your bones, including how exercise and diet can help. 

Hormone therapies may also cause pain and joint stiffness and hot flushes. Regular pain relief and regular exercise such as walking or swimming may help to relieve pain and joint stiffness. This type of exercise may also help reduce hot flushes.

Last reviewed: February 2019
Next planned review begins 2021

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