Many studies have found a link between regular exercise and a lower risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer or breast cancer coming back (recurrence). At the same time, much research has shown that being overweight increases the risk of breast and other cancers, as well as increasing the risk of recurrence.
A review study suggests that exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight are the two most important lifestyle choices a woman diagnosed with breast cancer can make to reduce her risk of recurrence.
The research was published in the Feb. 21, 2017 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The researchers summarized their results in six main points:
- Exercise: Women who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer should exercise moderately at least 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week, or do 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Women should also do two to three sessions of strength training for large muscle groups (glutes, back, chest, and hamstrings) per week.
- Avoid weight gain: Weight gain during or after breast cancer treatment is linked to worse outcomes. Women who are overweight or obese at diagnosis also have poorer outcomes.
- Stop smoking: While it’s unclear if stopping smoking after a breast cancer diagnosis affects the risk of recurrence, smoking causes a number of other health problems.
- Limit alcohol: Limiting drinking to one or zero alcoholic drinks per day may help reduce the risk of recurrence.
- Vitamin supplementation: Moderate consumption of vitamin C may be helpful, although more research is needed. Vitamin D supplements can help maintain bone strength.
- Diet: No specific type of diet has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Research suggests that patients do not need to avoid soy, and that soy products may help women maintain a healthy weight if they’re used to replace higher-calorie meat protein.
Overall, the researchers found that exercise had the most potential to reduce the risk of recurrence and improve survival — exercise reduced the risk of dying from breast cancer by about 40%.
Along with a healthy diet and lifestyle choices, regular exercise is one of the best things women can do to keep the risk of recurrence as low as it can be. This study adds to other research suggesting that regular exercise reduces recurrence risk. Regular exercise also helps keep your physical and mental health in top shape. No matter how old you are, it’s never too late or too soon to get moving. And once you do start, keep at it!
Bottom line: Regular exercise reduces recurrence risk of breast cancer.
About the author: Raja P. Reddy, MD is a board certified diagnostic radiologist specializing in breast imaging. He is also a contributing editor for Women’s Imaging Specialists, a leading provider of outpatient women’s imaging services in the greater Atlanta, GA area.