You’ve survived what was likely the toughest battle of your life: breast cancer. But what can you do to make sure the disease doesn’t recur?
Taking up exercise may be the most important lifestyle change women can make to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence, according to a new study published Tuesday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
That’s followed by avoiding weight gain, healthy eating and keeping away from smoking and too much booze.
“I’ve always encouraged my breast cancer patients to make healthy lifestyle changes and I was doing this long before there was any evidence that the changes could reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence,” Dr. Ellen Warner said in a CMAJ podcast. Warner is a researcher at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
“My goals were simply to improve patients’ overall quality of life and their general health and to give them something they could control because they had absolutely no control over their diagnosis or treatment,” Warner said.
For their study, Warner and co-author Julia Hamer reviewed 67 studies that looked at a variety of lifestyle factors, such as exercise, weight, diet and smoking habits and how these lifestyle choices improved their chances of cancer resurfacing.
Here are the key findings coming out of the review for women and their families managing health after beating breast cancer:
Avoid weight gain: Putting on just 10 per cent of your body weight after a breast cancer diagnosis increases the risk of dying from the disease, the researchers warn. They’re discouraging weight gain because it hurts morale and body image during an already tumultuous time in which women are losing their hair, for example. Overweight and obese women tend to have poor prognoses, too.
Pick up exercising: Cancer patients who commit to 30 minutes of exercise every day, five days a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week have better odds. Exercise offered the “most robust effect” on breast cancer outcomes.
Diet: Turns out, no specific type of diet has been shown to reduce risk of breast cancer recurrence. But the review found that patients don’t need to avoid soy. It might even help with weight management if it’s being used as a substitute for fattier, high-calorie animal proteins.
Vitamins: A “moderate” consumption of vitamin C could help but more evidence is needed, the review suggests. Vitamin D can also be taken to help with bone strength since chemotherapy and hormone therapy could take a toll on bone density.
Smoking: Stop smoking, the researchers say. It’s unclear if stopping smoking affects the chances of recurrence, but the risk of dying from smoking-related health issues is enough of a reason to butt out.
Limit your alcohol intake: Average one or fewer alcoholic drinks per day. This could help to reduce the risk of a second breast cancer, the review says.
Keep in mind, the study notes: lifestyle changes should never be used as a substitute for standard therapy options. Participants in the review’s studies were also receiving conventional anti-cancer therapies from chemotherapy to radiation.
These lifestyle changes also aren’t a “silver bullet” that’ll keep recurrence at bay indefinitely.
“Patients should not be made to feel that inadequate lifestyle changes have led to recurrence of their cancer,” the study concluded.
Read the full findings published in the CMAJ.
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