Breast Cancer Patients: An Untapped Market That Needs Specialized Exercise Guidance

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide and the second most common cancer overall. The American Cancer Society estimates for breast cancer in the United States for 2020 are about 276,480 new cases. This is in addition to the 3.8 million breast cancer survivors. When you consider that one in eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime, you can see that the average health club is home to many women silently suffering through the physical and emotional scars of breast cancer.

As health clubs struggle to reopen in the face of COVID, breast cancer patients and survivors may be hesitant to return. This offers an unprecedented multi-faceted opportunity to club and studio owners to reach out to this relatively untapped market. After breast cancer surgery, radiation and reconstruction, many women find themselves with painful muscle imbalances, weight gain, shoulder range of motion limitations, and even the loss of either their rectus abdominus or latissimus muscle when used for reconstruction. If they have had lymph nodes removed or irradiated, they will have a life-long risk of lymphedema – a painful and disfiguring disease caused by damage to the lymphatic system.

Many of these women will return to their workouts unknowingly doing more harm than good by performing the wrong exercises. Perhaps they will participate in a group exercise class or even hire a trainer to keep them motivated and help them to reach their goals. The problem is that the vast majority of fitness professionals have no clue of the level of knowledge needed to safely and effectively work with this population. As a result, the patient/client gets injured, quits working with the trainer or going to the health club, and becomes sedentary out of fear. Not only does this affect monthly dues and personal trainer revenue, this may affect the survivor’s overall life expectancy.

In a recent study by the National Cancer Institute found that women with breast cancer who met the minimum physical activity guidelines both before diagnosis and at the two-year follow-up, had a 55 percent reduced chance of their cancer returning and a 68 percent reduced chance of death from any cause (not just breast cancer) compared to those who did meet the guidelines at both times.

Many health clubs are losing out on this potential revenue stream as individual trainers who have been trained as cancer exercise specialists receive direct referrals of cancer patients from medical professionals. It stands to reason that having on staff personal trainers, yoga instructors, Pilates instructors, even Zumba instructors who have been trained as cancer exercise specialists would be a wise investment for club owners. Not only will you increase medical referrals, memberships, and personal training revenue, but you also get to “give back” to your community and aid breast cancer survivors in their journey to recovery.

Being able to provide a safe haven for those affected by cancer and having trained cancer exercise specialists on staff will open the door for medical referrals and allow the facility to become the next step in the healthcare continuum. At a time when health clubs are closing their doors due to COVID, a multi-faceted cancer recovery program may help to keep you in the black.

You may choose to offer a free membership while someone is undergoing treatment or for those who do not have the financial means. This will often create a supportive community around the program and good will toward you.

Because their immune systems have been compromised, those going through treatment or those who have recently completed it, may chose a virtual option rather than risk getting COVID. If you have not done so already, you need to add virtual cancer recovery classes to your menu of online options. As we have all seen, there are more online options than one could have ever imagined. From Peloton to kickboxing and from BOSU training to Yogalates, the entire fitness industry is catering to the young and healthy, but this is a big mistake.

You are missing out on other markets, including those recovering from cancer as well as the  aging market—one-third to one-half of which will have or have had cancer in their lifetimes. Baby Boomers number nearly 75 million. They not only want to work out, but they also need to exercise in order to continue to perform activities of daily life and do the things they love to do. They understand the benefits and have the money to pay for it. They value their health and will do what it takes to maintain it.

Instead of competing for the same youthful and healthy market that everyone of your competitors is going after, consider going after people who need your expertise. Isn’t it time for something new?


Andrea Leonard, president and founder of the Cancer Exercise Training Institute (CETI), is a 36-year cancer survivor who has been educating health and fitness professionals to become cancer exercise specialists since 1996. CETI is now in 36 countries and continues to grow.