Breast cancer researchers have made a connection between survival, diet and exercise, giving higher odds to patients who maintain a healthy lifestyle, both before and after diagnosis. American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund International’s (WCRFI) Continuous Update Project (CUP) report makes recommendations about healthy body weight, physical activity and foods that lower the risk of a recurrence, post-treatment complications or death. They acknowledge that more research is necessary to establish a firm link between breast cancer survival and healthy diet and exercise. However, initial indications are promising for survivors.
The CUP report explains that overweight and obese women are less likely to survive when given a breast cancer diagnosis. Although they admit there could be other explanations, they recommend that patients maintain a BMI of 25 or less to up the odds of survival. U.S. News and World Report states that other research supports the idea that maintaining a healthy weight lowers a patient’s risk for at least eight different types of cancer, including breast cancer. Adopting a disciplined exercise plan and eating breast health friendly foods not only strengthens the body for the fight against the disease but keeps the weight under control which has multiple health benefits.
A diet that promotes breast health is low in fat, especially saturated fat and high in fiber and soy. AICR associate nutrition director asserts that a plant-based diet, full of fruits and vegetables is very beneficial for breast cancer prevention. Researcher Anne McTiernan at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center explains that many breast cancers are sensitive to higher levels of estrogen so excess estrogen in survivors can trigger growth. However, fiber and soy help lower estrogen levels, which may be a factor in preventing a recurrence of the cancer. Frozen and pre-chopped veggies make it easy for breast cancer patients to garner the health benefits of a nutrition-packed diet without draining their limited energy dicing and chopping.
The long-term risk of lymphedema, a side effect of breast cancer surgery that affects around 40 percent of survivors has long contraindicated any strenuous exercise for fear of triggering the fluid buildup in the arms and shoulders due to the upset in the lymphatic system. Post-surgical patients have been warned against using their arms for even something so simple has lifting a grocery bag, but new research calls the old wisdom into question. Dr. Sandra Rosenberg, a rehabilitation specialist from St. Paul, Minn. contends that the recommendation was based on a myth, not science. Current knowledge shows that breast cancer survivors can exercise safely if they take proper precautions. She recommends starting small and working up to more strenuous exercise, taking it down a few notches if the arms begin to feel heavy or achy. The CUP report supports the idea that being physically active before and after a breast cancer diagnosis increases the chance of survival.
Researchers agree that the limited body of research in this area leave room for other factors to explain the possible links between healthy diet, exercise and higher breast cancer survival odds. Therefore, more research is in order to confirm the connection between specific foods, exercise and the effects on survivors’ health. Until scientific research is able to develop more specific recommendations, the CUP report recommends that breast cancer patients follow the medical advice of their health care provider in regards to WCRFI’s cancer prevention tips for a healthy lifestyle.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser