Cancer refers to the rapid growth and division of abnormal cells in a part of the body. These cells outlive normal cells and have the ability to metastasize, or invade parts of the body and spread to other organs. There are more than 100 types of cancers, and different risk factors contribute to the development of cancers in different sites. Cancer is the second largest cause of death worldwide, representing about 13% of all deaths (7.6 million deaths). Recent literature estimated the number of new cancer cases in 2009 alone at 12.9 million, and this number is projected to rise to nearly 17 million by 2020[1].

Physiotherapy is an autonomous profession concerned with the care, management and rehabilitation of patients. These principles apply to the management of patients with cancer through all care and rehabilitation programmes from diagnosis to the end of life. Physiotherapists conduct ongoing assessment of the needs of this patient group and their carers, in order to apply skilled interventions, which are vital for patients’ independence, functional capacity and quality of life. The role of the physiotherapist, as an essential member of the multi-disciplinary team is key to the successful rehabilitation and management of patients with cancer and palliative care needs. The absence of physiotherapy intervention would be detrimental to patient care and the ability of the patient/family to cope with the effects of the disease or its treatment on their functional capacity and quality of life.

The World Health Organization has drawn attention to the role of physical activity in reducing cancers – 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity can reduce the risk of breast and colon cancers, according to WHO’s new Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. But the physiotherapy contribution in cancer goes wider than that. Studies have also indicated a relationship between higher physical activity levels and lower mortality in cancer survivors. One recent meta-analysis reported that, post-diagnosis, physical activity reduced breast cancer deaths by 34% and disease recurrence by 24% [2]. Another meta-analysis found that exercise brings people with breast cancer improved peak oxygen consumption and reduced fatigue [3].



  1. Bloom, D.E., Cafiero, E.T., Jané-Llopis, E., Abrahams-Gessel, S., Bloom, L.R., Fathima, S., Feigl, A.B., Gaziano, T., Mowafi, M., Pandya, A., Prettner, K., Rosenberg, L., Seligman, B., Stein, A.Z., & Weinstein, C. (2011). The Global Economic Burden of Noncommunicable Diseases. Geneva: World Economic Forum
  2. Ibrahim EM, Al-Homaidh A. Physical activity and survival after breast cancer diagnosis: meta-analysis of published studies. Med Oncol. 2010 Apr 22
  3. McNeely ML, Campbell KL et al. Effects of exercise on breast cancer patients and survivors: a systematic review and metaanalysis. CMAJ. 2006 Jul 4;175(1) 34-41