Exercising and avoiding weight gain are among the most important lifestyle choices breast cancer patients can make to avoid a recurrence, according to a study.
The research involved a review of 67 published articles. Titled “Lifestyle modifications for patients with breast cancer to improve prognosis and optimize overall health,” it was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
“Of all lifestyle factors, physical activity has the most robust effect on breast cancer outcomes,” co-author Ellen Warner, of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, said in a press release. “Weight gain of more than 10% body weight after a breast cancer diagnosis increases breast cancer mortality and all-cause mortality. However, there are good reasons to discourage even moderate weight gain because of its negative effects on mood and body image.”
The authors looked at lifestyle factors such as exercise, weight, diet, and smoking to determine what behaviors women can change to improve their chances of surviving a recurrence of breast cancer.
The review, which the researchers have made available to the public, includes practical recommendations for patients and their families.
A key recommendation was avoiding weight gain, since it is linked to decreased chance of survival. Another important recommendation was exercising more. Specifically, researchers recommended engaging in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, as well as core muscle strength training. Another suggestion was eating a healthy and nutritious diet. The research team noted that no diet is known to reduce the risk of breast cancer, so patients should follow general diet recommendations.
As for taking vitamin supplements, researchers recommended vitamin C because it helps maintain bone strength. Chemotherapy and hormone treatments are known to reduce bone density.
Breast cancer patients should also stop smoking immediately, and limit their alcohol intake to one drink a day.
“Making positive lifestyle changes can also be psychologically beneficial to patients by empowering them, since the feeling of loss of control is one of the biggest challenges of a cancer diagnosis,” the authors wrote. And physicians can help a lot, they said.
“Because it is common for patients to reduce their level of physical activity after a breast cancer diagnosis, it is important for health care professionals to promote and encourage exercise in this patient population,” the authors added. “Simply receiving advice from an oncologist to exercise more has been shown to increase patients’ level of activity.”
It is important to note that patients included in these studies were not only changing their behaviors, they were also receiving conventional anti-cancer therapy. Lifestyle changes alone should not be used in place of adequate treatment under the supervision of a breast cancer specialist.
The authors stressed that their recommendations may not work for everyone with a breast cancer diagnosis because some cancers are more aggressive and may recur despite the most carefully followed lifestyle regimen.
“Patients should not be made to feel that inadequate lifestyle changes have led to recurrence of their cancer,” the authors concluded.
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