Aerobic capacity and upper limb strength are reduced in women diagnosed with breast cancer: a systematic review

J Physiother. 2014 Dec;60(4):189-200. doi: 10.1016/j.jphys.2014.09.005. Epub 2014 Nov 5.


Question: What are typical values of physical function for women diagnosed with breast cancer and how do these compare to normative data?

Design: Systematic review with meta-analysis.

Participants: Women diagnosed with breast cancer who were before, during or after treatment.

Outcome measures: Physical function was divided into three categories: aerobic capacity, upper and lower extremity muscular fitness, and mobility. Measures of aerobic capacity included field tests (6-minute walk test, 12-minute walk tests, Rockport 1-mile test, and 2-km walk time) and submaximal/maximal exercise tests on a treadmill or cycle ergometer. Measures of upper and lower extremity muscular fitness included grip strength, one repetition maximum (bench, chest or leg press), muscle endurance tests, and chair stands. The only measure of mobility was the Timed Up and Go test.

Results: Of the 1978 studies identified, 85 were eligible for inclusion. Wide ranges of values were reported, reflecting the range of ages, disease severity, treatment type and time since treatment of participants. Aerobic fitness values were generally below average, although 6-minute walk time was closer to population norms. Upper and lower extremity strength was lower than population norms for women who were currently receiving cancer treatment. Lower extremity strength was above population norms for women who had completed treatment.

Conclusion: Aerobic capacity and upper extremity strength in women diagnosed with breast cancer are generally lower than population norms. Assessment of values for lower extremity strength is less conclusive. As more research is published, expected values for sub-groups by age, treatment, and co-morbidities should be developed. [Neil-Sztramko SE, Kirkham AA, Hung SH, Niksirat N, Nishikawa K Campbell KL (2014) Aerobic capacity and upper limb strength are reduced in women diagnosed with breast cancer: a systematic review.Journal of Physiotherapy60: 189-200].

Keywords: Breast neoplasms; Meta-analysis; Muscle strength; Physical endurance; Physical fitness.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / rehabilitation
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise Tolerance / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Strength / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Physical Endurance / physiology*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Upper Extremity / physiology*