To live long, healthy lives and lower their chances of recurrence, breast cancer survivors should focus on staying active and watching their weight, according to a report out today from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). The report looks at research on whether physical activity, nutrition and overweight and obesity affect breast cancer and overall mortality in breast cancer survivors. The report found evidence to suggest that in women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer:
- Physical activity, a high fiber diet and eating more soy were associated with longer survival.
- Obesity is related to a greater chance of developing a second cancer of the breast, dying from breast cancer and shorter survival.
However, the report notes that high quality research on this topic is still limited.
Staying healthy to prevent cancer recurrence
So, what does the report mean for cancer survivors? Should you exercise, and maintain a healthy diet and a healthy weight?
The answer is still yes!
This report looked only at research on survival or diagnosis of a second breast cancer. These studies say it's possible that the obesity, physical activity and diets high in soy or fiber improve survival after breast cancer. Even if we can't be completely sure of the relationship, there are many other good reasons to exercise, eat healthfully and maintain a healthy body weight. Here are some of them.
- Many randomized studies show that moderate exercise reduces fatigue and improves quality of life in cancer survivors.
- People who eat less red meat and processed meat are less likely to get colorectal cancer. Cancer prevention still applies to you as a cancer survivor!
- People who are obese are more likely to develop several types of cancer, such as colon, endometrium (lining of the uterus), and breast (after menopause).
- Exercise, a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight also can reduce your chances of developing other diseases, like heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.
The guidelines for cancer prevention suggested by the AICR and recommended by MD Anderson's Integrative Health Program also are important for survivors:
- Don't smoke or use tobacco products.
- Stay lean, but don't become underweight.
- Participate in physical activity for at least 30 minutes each day.
- Limit consumption of energy-dense foods and sugary drinks.
- Include a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, such as beans, in your diet.
- Avoid processed meat and limit the amount of red meats like beef, pork and lamb, in your diet.
- If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day.
- Don't consume too much salty or processed food and limit your sodium intake.
- Don't rely on supplements to prevent cancer.
How you can help cancer research
The second message to take home from the report is that we need more research. Cancer survivors can help by participating in research studies on diet, activity and weight. For information about studies, email EnergyBalance@mdanderson.org. If you have the opportunity to participate in a research study, please do. You can help ensure that the next update report has clearer answers for cancer patients and survivors.
MD Anderson's Integrative Health Program can help you start an exercise, learn to eat a more healthy diet, or manage your weight. Patients currently receiving treatment can contact the Integrative Medicine Center at 713-794-4800. Prevention and survivorship patients can contact the Cancer Prevention Center at 713-745-8040.
Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., is the Director of the Center for Energy Balance in Cancer Prevention and Survivorship at MD Anderson.