Treatment side effects and exercise

Cancer treatment causes a range of physical effects that are different for different people. Exercise has been shown to help people cope with many of the common side effects, including fatigue, feeling sick (nausea), loss of appetite, anaemia, depression and anxiety, weight changes and loss of muscle tone. Some side effects need extra care if you are starting an exercise program.

Learn how exercise can help you cope with these side effects:

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Many people experience fatigue (feeling tired even when rested) during and after cancer treatment. Carefully monitoring your condition and making adjustments to the exercise intensity and duration can help manage fatigue.

It is important to keep doing some low-intensity exercise during times of excessive fatigue (unless you have severe anaemia). You may find that shorter, more frequent sessions are more manageable. By stopping all activity you risk losing fitness and strength, which can make the fatigue worse.


Starting an exercise program early in treatment may lower the risk of developing lymphoedema. For those with lymphoedema, regular exercise can reduce the severity of the condition and its symptoms.

Compromised immunity

Some cancers and treatments stop the immune system from working properly for a time. When your white blood cell count is low (neutropenia), there is an increased risk of infection, so it is important to limit physical contact with other people and clean any shared equipment before use. When your immunity is severely compromised, gyms, swimming pools and training venues should be avoided.


Low red blood cell and/or haemoglobin count is another common side effect of cancer treatment. Symptoms of anaemia include unexplained tiredness and fatigue. Combined with good nutrition, exercise has been shown to improve anaemia. For mild or moderate anaemia, try a low-intensity exercise program, with gradual increases in intensity and/or duration. However, in cases of severe anaemia (when a blood test shows a haemoglobin level of less than 80 g/L), consult your doctor about whether you should avoid exercise until it improves.

Skin irritation

Areas of skin affected by radiation therapy can be extremely sensitive and often uncomfortable. Choose activities and clothing to minimise fabric rubbing affected areas. Chlorine can be irritating, so avoid pool-based exercise if your skin has a rash or is reddened after radiation therapy.

Poor balance and coordination

If the cancer or its treatment has affected your coordination or causes dizziness, it is safer to avoid exercise that relies on balance and coordination, such as cycling outdoors or using a treadmill. It is also best not to lift free weights without a training partner.

Bone weakness or pain

Some hormone treatments for breast and prostate cancer can increase the risk of fractures, as can osteoporosis (bone thinning) or primary or secondary bone cancer. In these cases, it is best to avoid contact sports and high-impact activities such as running and jumping.

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on exercise for people living with cancer.

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Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in April 2016
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Nutrition and cancer
How to eat well during and after cancer treatment

Staying healthy after treatment
Lifestyle changes that can help keep you in good health

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