Weight gain is common for those undergoing breast cancer treatment, but putting on pounds can be extremely dangerous for patients with breast cancer. According to a review published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, exercise and avoiding weight gain is the strongest method to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence.
Researchers found that women who gained more than 10 percent of their body weight during or after breast cancer treatments were more likely to be at risk for breast cancer-related death. Possible reasons for the increased risk include the rise of circulating insulin-like growth factor, sex hormones and proinflammatory ctyokines caused by obesity.
The review included 67 published articles studying the impact of different lifestyle choices such as diet, weight and smoking habits on breast cancer survival. While no specific diet has been proven to improve breast cancer survival, the review authors recommend at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, including 75 minutes of vigorous exercise and around two sessions of strength training to build up muscle.
Healthy lifestyle choices can also lead to mental benefits as well. Authors Julia Hamer and Ellen Warner wrote that “making positive lifestyle changes can also 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.”
Hamer and Warner emphasized that these recommendations are not guaranteed to stop breast cancer recurrence, but regardless if exercise changes the prognosis, patients can benefit from improving their overall health.
A study by the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, suggests that switching to a diet high in leafy greens, fruit, vegetables and olive oil could radically reduce the chance of developing cancer.
Dr Miguel Martínez-González and his team followed more than 4200 women on either a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra olive oil, for five years. Those on the Mediterranean diet were 68% less likely to have developed breast cancer during the study period than those on the control diet.
Dr Mitchell Katz, editor of JAMA Internal Medicine, said: “We hope to see more emphasis on a Mediterranean diet to reduce cancer and cardiovascular disease and improve health and wellbeing.”
Up to 80% of American patients with breast cancer will undergo complementary therapies to manage anxiety and stress after they receive a diagnosis.
Though there’s no clear consensus on which integrative and alternative therapies work and which are ineffective, more and more medical practices have incorporated practices like mindfulness and acupuncture into their offerings. But a new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monographs conducted by several major oncology facilities has examined which therapies benefit patients the most. The answer? Meditation, yoga and relaxation with imagery.
The three methods are known to be calming for those who practice them, and the researchers gave the practices an “A” for treating symptoms of mood disorders that are highly common among people with a recent diagnosis.
To come up with the grade, the researchers parsed through clinical trials conducted from 1990-2013 on complementary therapies paired with routine cancer treatment, like chemotherapy. The researchers then graded each therapy based on efficacy. Acupuncture was given a “B” for controlling chemo nausea, and music therapy also received a “B” for anxiety and stress.
“Women with breast cancer are among the highest users [of these therapies]…and usage has been increasing,” the authors write in their study. “Clear clinical practice guidelines are needed.” The study involved researchers from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, MD Anderson, University of Michigan, Memorial Sloan Kettering and more.
The researchers also gave some therapies low grades. For example, healing touch was given a “C” for lowering pain, and aloe vera gel was not recommended at all for preventing skin reactions from radiation therapy. The researchers also point out that while some natural products were shown to be effective, they did not have the safety data to back them up, suggesting more formal research is needed before some of the therapies can be officially recommended.
As patients with breast cancer and other forms of cancer continue to seek other ways to deal with some of the emotional side effects that stem from serious illness, it will become increasingly important for hospitals to find ways to answer their unmet needs—which might include a yoga class.