A woman can make two lifestyle changes that will prominently help prevent a recurrence of her breast cancer as well as reduce mortality.
The No. 1 ranking lifestyle change that helps prevent recurrence of breast cancer is exercise. The next big lifestyle change is fat loss if the patient is overweight.
“Weight gain of more than 10% body weight after a breast cancer diagnosis,” says Dr. Ellen Warner, “increases breast cancer mortality and all-cause mortality.”
Dr. Warner’s report appears in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (Feb. 2017). The report’s conclusions are based on an analysis of 67 published articles.
About 25% of women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer will later die from metastases.
The exact exercise protocol has not been established.
In other words, for instance, researchers do not know if high intensity interval training is better than heavy strength training for the prevention of breast cancer coming back.
However, there are general guidelines for exercise – which of course, will also either help prevent fat gain or help the patient lose excess body fat.
Exercise Guidelines for Breast Cancer Patients
• Half an hour or more a day of moderate exercise, five days a week.
• Or, 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.
• Two to three sessions per week of strength training.
But as mentioned, details have not been established. “Moderate” and “vigorous” can be very subjective.
So for instance, if a woman is in really poor condition—from a lifetime of never exercising, then just a 4 mph walk will be “vigorous.”
On the other hand, a long-time runner who develops breast cancer will find that a 4 mph walk is a piece of cake.
What would be “vigorous” to THIS patient? If she’s used to jogging 30 minutes at six mph (which would be impossible for even five minutes to a woman new to cardio exercise), then perhaps interval training of alternating brief three mph trots with brief 10 mph dashes would be “vigorous.”
As for the strength training, this is wide open to interpretation.
- Are we talking about light dumbbell work on isolated muscle groups?
- Or heavy barbell work such as in the bench press and deadlift?
- Or would hybrid movements be the most beneficial at helping prevent breast cancer recurrence and death from this disease?
An example of a hybrid movement is the following:
• Hold a 20 lb. medicine ball
• Toss it overhead and let it plop to the floor.
• Squat low (don’t bend with the back) to pick it up.
• Rise back up and toss it overhead again.
• Repeat 20 times.
• This is a killer and will contribute to weight loss.
More research is needed to see what kind of strength training protocol is most effective at preventing recurrence of, and death from, breast cancer.
Avoidance of weight gain, as mentioned, is that second biggest lifestyle factor.
Exercise will help with this. Being overweight and especially obese at the time of diagnosis is associated with greater mortality.
A change in diet is not enough. Exercise is key.
According to the paper, there is no research available that clearly points to a particular anti-breast-cancer diet for preventing recurrence.
But do we need research to know that junk food (bakery, candy, white bread, sugar-added snacks, sugar-added beverages and fast-food) should be severely restricted? And limit alcohol to no more than four ounces a day.
And of course, if you smoke, STOP. The paper doesn’t indicate a definitive connection between recurrence of breast cancer, but smokers should quit because this habit causes premature death overall.