Diet, exercise, and recurrence?


Question from MollyW: Due to lots of lymph node involvement, I am at high risk for recurrence. I am confused over whether I can do anything to increase the likelihood of remaining cancer-free. Can diet and exercise really make a difference? My doctor doesn't seem to think so, but my naturopath says they can. What is your opinion?
Answers - Eric Winer, M.D. There's no question that treatments like chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and radiation reduce your risk of having a recurrence. Your question, though, is whether exercise and diet also help. In fact, in terms of diet, your doctor's right that there's no evidence that changing your diet affects your chance of having a recurrence. In truth, there are still unanswered questions here. I personally am a believer in exercise, although you could also argue that the proof there is lacking. Although there's a bit more evidence with exercise than with diet, none of this means that you shouldn't change your diet and exercise if those changes make you feel better about your life and your chances of having a recurrence of cancer.
Musa Mayer As Eric says, it's important to feel better about your life after the crisis of breast cancer treatment. There are many ways that you can seek to gain a sense of control. Some women will join a support group, some will follow a healthier diet, some will exercise, and some will try meditation or other techniques. All of these can be very important in helping you to feel better and cope with your illness. Whether or not they actually prevent recurrence is, in a way, less important than that they make you feel better day-by-day.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. Staying close to your ideal body weight is the healthiest. There is soft evidence that after a breast cancer diagnosis, women who tend to be close to their ideal body weight may have a lower risk of recurrence.
Musa Mayer This is a big challenge for many breast cancer patients, because—particularly if we have undergone chemotherapy or are on tamoxifen or other hormonal treatments—there is a tendency to gain weight. It's always a struggle.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. For sure, many of you have struggled with your weight. It can become much more difficult after you go through treatment, experience weight gain from the treatment and supportive therapies, along with changes in your activity level. The main thing is to work towards a realistic goal consisting of a healthy diet and regular exercise. Give yourself credit along the way. Don't get too frustrated or impatient if it takes a lot of hard work over a long time. A support group can really be helpful here, as well as an excellent nutritionist and advice on resuming exercise in a safe and healthy way.

On Wednesday, September 17, 2003, our Ask-the-Expert Online Conference was called Metastatic Breast Cancer. Musa Mayer, Eric P. Winer, M.D., and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answered your questions about treatment and quality of life issues related to advanced (metastatic) breast cancer.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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