Clinical Trial

Breast Cancer Research and Treatment

, Volume 102, Issue 3, pp 313-321

First online:

Pectoral stretching program for women undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer

  • T.S. LeeAffiliated withSchool of Physiotherapy, University of Sydney Email author 
  • , S.L. KilbreathAffiliated withSchool of Physiotherapy, University of Sydney
  • , K.M. RefshaugeAffiliated withSchool of Physiotherapy, University of Sydney
  • , S.C. PendleburyAffiliated withDepartment of Radiation Oncology, Sydney Cancer Centre, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
  • , J.M. BeithAffiliated withSydney Cancer Centre, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital
  • , M.J. LeeAffiliated withSchool of Physiotherapy, University of Sydney

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Surgery and radiotherapy commonly cause adverse musculoskeletal problems, particularly loss of strength and range of motion, in the upper quadrant of breast cancer patients. Few well-designed studies have investigated whether these impairments can be prevented. Stretching is an effective technique for increasing range of motion, hence the aim of this study was to investigate whether a stretching program reduced acute musculoskeletal impairments in patients undergoing radiotherapy for breast cancer. Sixty-four women were recruited prior to commencement of radiotherapy following breast cancer surgery. Participants were randomised to either a control or stretch group. Participants in both groups were reviewed by the physical therapist on a weekly basis for approximately 6 weeks, and were given general information about skin care and lymphedema. The control group received no advice about exercise. The stretch group received instruction on low-load, prolonged pectoral stretches, which were to be performed daily and were checked at weekly visits. Shoulder range of motion, strength, arm circumference, and quality of life measurements were taken prior to, and at completion of radiotherapy, and at 7 months after radiotherapy. There was no difference in any outcome between groups. Breast symptoms increased for both groups during radiotherapy, without loss of strength or range of movement. The incidence of lymphedema during the study was low for both groups and did not differ between groups. The pectoral stretching program did not influence the outcomes measured because the symptoms reported by patients were not a consequence of contracture.


Breast cancer Radiotherapy Exercise Physical therapy Shoulder