How to Find a Qualified Cancer Exercise Trainer

Oncology Rehab Owner and Clinician Cheryl Guarna

Cheryl Guarna, PT, MPT, CLT, STAR/C

Cancer treatments can affect the heart, lungs, and regulatory systems (heart rate, blood pressure), the nervous system, and the musculoskeletal system long after treatments are over. Some survivors pursue an exercise program, but unfortunately many do not. Advanced education enables exercise professionals to develop safe exercise programs that are tailored for each survivor’s specialized needs. Personal trainers may have several professional designations according to their area of expertise.

Get Cleared for Exercise

Exercising without an adequate assessment of a survivor’s current physical and functional state may predispose them to injury from exercise or worse, medical complications from the reduced/altered capacities of the body. It is imperative that all cancer patients and cancer survivors be cleared for exercise by their physician prior to starting any exercise program.

Get Evaluated by a Qualified Cancer Exercise Professional

After getting cleared by your doctor, the next step is being evaluated by a qualified professional, even if you decide to go it on your own. If you choose to pursue a personal trainer for guidance, here are some guidelines to ensure you choose a qualified trainer experienced and/or certified in exercise program development for cancer survivors.

Find a Qualified Exercise Specialist

First, be sure that your trainer is certified by a nationally recognized trainer organization such as the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM), or the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Each offers advanced training certifications for Personal Trainers.

Look for Cancer Exercise Certifications

The Cancer Exercise Training Institute (CETI) offers a Cancer Exercise Specialist (CES) certification, and the ACSM issues a Cancer Exercise Trainer Certification (CET). Both organizations provide search tools on their web sites.

CETI provides an easy-to-use search tool in the top right corner of their home page. Enter your country and state from the drop down menus (see image). On the results page, you can narrow your search results by selecting “CES” from the “Protocal” drop down menu.

ACSM also provides a search tool called Profinder. It is not quite as easy to locate, so I’ve included the direct link to that page. Select “ACSM/ACS Certified Exercise Trainer” from the drop down menu.

Other Cancer Exercise Training Programs

In addition, the PALS for Life training program teaches trainers to work specifically with breast cancer survivors. This program is based on a one-year protocol used in The PAL Trial at the University of Pennsylvania and funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI)  “assessing the safety of progressive strength training in breast cancer survivors” and evolved into an ongoing effort to help people overcome the effects of lymphedema through exercise. You can located a list of qualified trainers on the PALS for Life “Find a Trainer” page or at University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center listing.

Is a Cancer Certification Really Necessary?

While a specialist certification is not imperative for a cancer therapist or personal trainer, advanced education or experience is needed. Unless you live in a very rural area, chances are you can find someone who is qualified in cancer exercise. As with any service, do not hesitate to ask rehab professionals and trainers questions about their experience. Ask key questions such as:

  • Have you worked with cancer patients and survivors?
  • Are you certified in the treatment of lymphedema?
  • Are you certified as a cancer exercise specialist or cancer exercise trainer?
  • What are your certifications?

By putting a little time into researching your cancer exercise therapist, and asking a few important questions, you will be able to locate someone who will help you safely return to an exercise routine and help you address any physical or functional impairments you may have as the result of cancer and its treatments.

You have overcome too much to not get the appropriate treatment and guidance. There are professionals that are passionate about caring for your specialized needs. If you choose to start a post-cancer exercise program, seek out someone who can safely guide you.

Oncology Rehab and Wellness Resources Cancer Exercise Program

We will soon be announcing the addition of both group and individual training programs with our Cancer Exercise Specialists. Check back to this blog or for daily news updates follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

If you have any questions about this or other blog topics, please contact me at

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