C1. Cancer Treatment and Exercise

Cardio-Oncology: Cancer Treatment and Exercise

You may have been given medicine or therapies that target your cancer cells, but did you know that some cancer treatments also can damage your heart and blood vessels? This is called cardiotoxicity. The most common forms of cardiotoxicity include:

  • Cardiomyopathy and heart failure (heart muscle is damaged so that it can’t pump or receive blood normally)
  • Coronary artery disease (major sources of blood supply to the heart are damaged)


Your risk of cardiotoxicity depends on the treatments you receive (type and dosage). It also depends on certain risk factors — some of which you can’t control, and some you can.

Risk factors that can’t be controlled include your sex, age, and family history. Some examples of controllable risk factors are inactivity, obesity, and smoking. You are more likely to develop cardiotoxicity after a cancer diagnosis if you:

  • Are overweight
  • Smoke
  • Have diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol
  • Don’t exercise regularly
  • Already have heart disease


The good news is that exercise can help control your risks. Use this condition center to learn about the benefits of exercise for patients with cancer, what questions you should ask your care team, and how to get started.

Benefits of Exercise

Studies in cancer patients have shown that regular exercise or physical activity can help prevent deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD). For example, survivors of breast cancer and Hodgkin’s lymphoma who did at least 150 minutes per week of physical activity had a 23% and 51% reduction in cardiovascular events respectively compared with those who did less.

This research suggests that you do not need to be running marathons to benefit from exercise!

What is Physical Activity?

Physical activity is defined as anything that makes you move your body and burns calories, such as gardening or playing a sport.

What is Exercise?

Exercise is a type of physical activity that is planned and structured. It aims to improve or maintain your physical fitness and health.

Although exercise is good for most people, how you exercise will depend on some factors, such as your health, goals and overall fitness level.