Aim: A current critical review of the literature was deemed necessary to evaluate the strength of evidence to inform clinical practice.
Background: Recently, there has been a noticeable increase in empirical literature surrounding the benefits of exercise for breast cancer patients.
Methods: A systematic search strategy was used to identify relevant literature. Twenty-nine articles were retained for critical review, appraised for quality and synthesized.
Results: Many early studies had limited internal and external validity. Recent studies were considerably more rigorous and robust. Consistent support for all types of aerobic exercise was most evident in studies of patients during adjuvant cancer treatments (chemotherapy and radiotherapy), compared with post-treatment studies. The evidence which suggested that aerobic exercise limits cancer-related fatigue was particularly strong. For other patient concerns, the empirical support was less robust, however, the potential for beneficial and measurable patient outcomes was indicated for cardiopulmonary function, overall quality of life, global health, strength, sleep, self-esteem and reduced weight gain, depression, anxiety and tiredness.
Conclusions: Additional studies with higher methodological quality are required in this clinically relevant area to substantiate current indications particularly for patient subgroups (e.g. older people, those with advanced cancer and the disadvantaged).
Relevance to clinical practice: It is important for all healthcare professionals involved in the care of individuals affected by breast cancer to be aware of the evidence surrounding the benefits of exercise and to encourage patients to increase physical activity and improve their overall health and well-being.