Testing the ‘teachable moment’ premise: does physical activity increase in the early survivorship phase?



Little is known about objectively measured physical activity during the early survivorship period. This study measured physical activity, fatigue, and quality of life (QOL) in breast cancer patients over the first year after completion of chemotherapy and compared results to a matched non-cancer group.


Data was obtained from 24 breast cancer subjects (mean ± SD) 50.9 ± 12.8 years at time points of 6 weeks, 6 months and 1 year after completion of adjuvant chemotherapy and from 20 matched women. The following variables were assessed, physical activity (RT3 accelerometer and International Physical Activity Questionnaire), quality-of-life (EORTC QLQ C-30) and fatigue (Brief Fatigue Inventory).


At 6 weeks after completion of chemotherapy, high levels of sedentary behaviour were found (6.8 ± 1.9 h sedentary per day), which did not improve, and was no different to the comparison group (6.5 ± 1.4 h). Less light activity was performed in the cancer cohort compared to the comparison group (p = 0.003). Body mass index (BMI) increased significantly in the cancer cohort (p = 0.015) and 1 year after chemotherapy finished only 13 % (n = 3) had a BMI <25, while the comparable value was 45 % (n = 9) in the non-cancer group. The QOL domain of cognitive function improved over the first 6 months (p = 0.034) but physical functioning declined (p = 0.008) over this time period. Fatigue did not change, and at the 1-year time point, 38 % of the cancer patients (n = 11) reported high levels of fatigue.


This study highlighted the unchanging sedentary behaviour and weight gain of breast cancer survivors during the first year after completion of chemotherapy, which may inform rehabilitation models in this population.

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The authors would like to acknowledge the Health Research Board, Ireland which funded this work.

Conflict of interest

I can confirm that there is no financial relationship between the authors and the organisation which funded this research. The corresponding author has full control of all primary data which can be reviewed should this be required.

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Correspondence to J. M. Broderick.

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Broderick, J.M., Hussey, J., Kennedy, M.J. et al. Testing the ‘teachable moment’ premise: does physical activity increase in the early survivorship phase?. Support Care Cancer 22, 989–997 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00520-013-2064-4

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  • Rehabilitation
  • Exercise
  • Fatigue
  • Quality of life
  • Body mass index