Although breast cancer survival rates are quite high compared with other forms of cancer, cancer can still come back. A new study conducted in Canada gives some recommendations that breast cancer survivors can incorporate into their lifestyles to reduce their chances of cancer recurrence.
The research goal was to examine various lifestyle factors to see how they influence the rate of breast cancer recurrence. The study consisted of a meta-analysis of 67 articles that investigated different lifestyle choices including exercise, weight management, dietary patterns, smoking, and alcohol consumption. The study sought to provide insight into how, if at all, these lifestyle changes impacted the rates of breast cancer recurrence.
Dr. Ellen Warner and Dr. Julia Hamer of the Sunnybrook Health Science Centre in Canada conducted the research and were co-authors. Their findings were published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) in February.
Unlike many cancers, breast cancer patients have a very high level of early stage diagnoses. Over 90 percent of breast cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage, and this leads to higher survival rates. Currently, the 10-year survival rate is around 83 percent, and this has been rising for decades.
This does not mean cancer cannot return, however. Even in early stage diagnoses, almost 30 percent of women develop secondary growths later on. That’s why any lifestyle changes that can lower that rate are necessary.
Of course, the authors commented that these changes don’t represent a foolproof defense. “Patients should not be made to feel that inadequate lifestyle changes have led to recurrence of their cancer,” the authors note.
Exercise and weight management are key
When the lifestyle factors mentioned above were reviewed, physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight appear to have the most beneficial effect on warding off the recurrence of breast cancer.
Women who exercise moderately — 30 minutes of physical activity every day, five days a week, or 75 minutes of intense exercise — significantly reduce their risk of breast cancer recurrence and subsequent death.
In contrast, weight gain has the opposite effect. Weight gain after breast cancer diagnosis increases breast cancer mortality.
The authors commented on what their review could mean for breast cancer patients. “Making positive lifestyle changes can be psychologically beneficial to patients by empowering them since the feeling of loss of control is one of the biggest challenges of a cancer diagnosis,” they write in CMAJ.
“Because it is common for patients to reduce their level of physical activity after a breast cancer diagnosis, it is important for health care professionals to promote and encourage exercise in this patient population,” they add.
Other lifestyle factors such as diet and vitamin supplements didn’t show noticeable changes in recurrence rates. While smoking impacts health in many ways, the review couldn’t should a correlation in recurrence rates. Alcohol consumption was also inconclusive in regards to recurrence.