This is the last in the series on breast cancer, prevention of recurrence and healthy living in survivorship. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Men also are diagnosed with breast cancer only at much smaller incidence. This means the odds of us knowing someone who has been through treatment for breast cancer is high. Unfortunately, for some people, recurrence of breast cancer, metastatic disease or another type of cancer diagnosis years later is a reality. There are no guarantees in the prevention of cancer, prevention of recurrence and if you lead an idealistically healthy life, you may still develop cancer or have recurrence or metastatic disease. However, when your body is healthy it will fight the disease better and may even delay diagnosis so that you have more worry free years.
Prevention and prevention of recurrence follow a very similar recommendations. They are amazingly simple and complex at the same time. The choices we make every day on what and when we eat and whether or not we move our body impact our chances of being diagnosed with cancer and how we will respond during treatment IF we are diagnosed. According to the American Cancer Society, our physical activity and eating habits could reduce cancer mortality in the United States by as much as one-third! That’s dramatic! That statistic means that a big part of the solution is in our control!
One of the strongest links for increased risk of recurrence is overweight and obesity. Interestingly, breast cancer is one of the few cancers where weight gain during treatment is common. There is a link, but not a cause and effect. Many possible causes are theorized for this phenomenon, but nothing conclusive. What is conclusive is aiming to prevent the weight gain and /or losing as little as 10% body weight has a significant impact on chance of recurrence. We are not speaking of many pounds, usually a very doable number! Some very promising recent findings show that exercise, specific and with intervals of moderate to high intensity in each session, can dramatically impact fitness (which decreases 5% or more during treatment and may be a factor in weight) and exercise capacity has been shown to be a strong predictor of prognosis. In one study the control group, non-aerobic exercisers, had a 3% decline in fitness while the aerobic trained group had a 17% increase! As you can see, exercise needs to be a part of life, during and after treatment.
Nutrition also has an impact. The strongest impact is consumption of fruits and vegetables. People who consumed the recommended 7-9 servings had significantly reduced incidence of recurrence. How can you incorporate more color in your day? Lower consumption of animal products comes in a close second. We encourage small amounts of protein with meals and snacks for satiety and blood sugar control, however small amounts equals a total of 6 ounces each day at most. That’s each day, not each meal. When we consume appropriate protein, there is room left for those servings of fruits and veggies.
In summary, for prevention, during treatment and in survivorship:
- Is 30 minutes too much time to invest in reducing your cancer risk? (yes or no?) Choose to move each and every day, after all, you have the choice to move when others only wish they could.
- Limit sedentary activity even if you’re active.
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Forego the fads which aim to achieve healthy weight, but will not enable you to maintain a healthy weight. You may have to put in a little effort here, and you are worth the effort.
- Limit consumption of processed meats and animal proteins.
- Eat at least 2 1/2 cups, 7 - 9 servings, of vegetables and fruits daily. Choose a rainbow of colors as the variety of colors provides a variety of rich anti-oxidant rich nutrients.
- Choose whole grains vs. refined grains. Less processing is less exposure to chemicals.
- Choose food instead of pills. Supplements may be organic, natural, or even vegetarian, but they are still pills and except for fish oil, the research on supplements overwhelmingly shows that the pill form of nutrients does not produce the same health benefits as we get from eating the foods rich in nutrients. Although there may be cause to supplement our food choices, refrain from replacing food unless you like flushing your money down the toilet, literally.
- Limit alcoholic beverages, if you drink. Daily consumptions should be limited to 2 drinks for women and 3 for men. On serving equals one shot of liquor, 4 oz of wine or 12 oz of beer.
What will you choose today to decrease your risk of cancer? Past blogs discuss ways to move more and add fruits and vegetables into your every day life- suggestions on “how” to make the work in your every day life.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with breast cancer, I highly recommend 101 Things You Should Know About Breast Cancer by Pam Schmid (find at www.pamshmid.com). Pam tells her story of a lifetime of health and fitness, her career of choice even, and her journey with breast cancer and now metastatic disease. She provides the facts, not the theories, and the choices we can all make to be healthier at various stages of cancer diagnosis, treatment and survivorship. Pam shares a journey of living with cancer and the power of our choices. It’s actually a good reference for most types of cancer.