Diet and exercise can help women who have completed treatment for breast cancer to live longer and feel better. They may even help lower the chance of the cancer coming back (recurrence). The Women’s Intervention Nutrition Study (WINS) was a randomized study of a low fat diet in women who had completed treatment for early stage breast cancer. At five years, the women on the low fat diet lost weight about six pounds on average (the control group didn’t lose weight) and had a lower risk of the cancer coming back or getting a new breast cancer than the control group. After longer follow up, the risk of recurrence evened out between the two groups, but the women in the low fat diet group had better survival. Observational studies have also found that women who exercised more had lower risks of the cancer coming back. These kinds of studies have also found that women who gain weight after diagnosis have a higher risk of the cancer coming back. Diet and exercise are key to preventing weight gain.
Women who are obese have an increased risk of post-menopausal breast cancer compared with women who maintain a healthy weight, which means that those who maintain a healthy weight have a lower risk (of getting breast cancer after menopause) than those who do not. Studies have shown that moderate to vigorous exercise is linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. This may be in part due to effects on body composition, as well as hormone levels. Exercise can improve fatigue and other symptoms in women with breast cancer in active treatment, as well as maintain their physical function and prevent changes in body composition (like weight gain) that can result from treatment. Women in treatment may have to cut back on their exercise routine for a time (exercise at a lower intensity or for shorter periods) due to side effects of treatment, but it is helpful for them to try to stay active.
So how much exercise is enough? The American Cancer Society recommends that healthy adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week. Moderate activities may include walking, dancing, leisurely bicycling, and yoga, while vigorous activities may include jogging or running, fast bicycling, circuit weight training, swimming, jumping rope, aerobic dance, and martial arts.
About Dr. Kramer:
Joan Kramer, MD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Kramer graduated cum laude receiving her Medical Degree from Saint Louis University in Saint Louis, Missouri. She completed her postdoctoral training with a residency in internal medicine at Saint Louis University Hospital and a fellowship in hematology and medical oncology at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio in San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Kramer served as Medical Editor for the American Cancer Society until May 2015. She is published in a number of peer-reviewed journals.
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